Friday, March 11, 2011

The Collaborative Composer Part 2

Today's guest post is written by Martha Hill Duncan, an award-winning composer and piano teacher living in Kingston, Ontario. She is also an examiner for the Royal Conservatory of Music, conductor of the women’s choir She Sings!, and a founding member of Red Leaf Pianoworks, a self-publishing composer’s collective. For more information, sound clips and score availability, please visit Martha's website.

I grew up in Texas and moved to Canada as a young adult, so when I decided to write songs for my daughter, it seemed only natural to concentrate on my new country’s poets. The songs eventually found a home in the collection Singing in the Northland. Although the songs had enjoyed many performances, they had never been professionally recorded as a complete set. With the formidable talents of soprano Elizabeth McDonald, First Nations mezzo soprano Marion Newman, and pianist Kathryn Tremills, we finally released the complete CD this year. Since my daughter Claire Duncan was the original inspiration, she joined them in the trio Lullaby of the Iroquois. What a joy to work with such generous and expressive performers. Of course hearing one’s music so sensitively performed only makes one want to compose more…

Singers want to sing new music!!! Who knew??

Elizabeth McDonald had been singing and teaching several of my Northland songs, but was looking for more challenging performance repertoire, so with her shimmering voice in mind, I took my marching orders to heart. Thanks to my husband’s academic job, we’ve been blessed with occasional travel and sabbaticals. These are magical times for me as I’m able to immerse myself completely into writing projects. So, during a fall stay in England/Scotland I began to write Florals: Art Songs for Medium High to High Voice, finally completing the first five this January. Thanks to a keyboard donations from a London astronomer and Elizabeth’s e-mail comments, encouragements and careful warnings from across the Atlantic, I was off and running. Florals includes Flowering (a tango of betrayal) poetry by writer and pianist Carla Hartsfield, two with poetry by E. Pauline Johnson: Fire-Flowers (grief & joyous rebirth) and Wild Asters (finished in Edinburgh – so an interesting mix of Canadian & Scottish landscape!), the crazy antics of a jealous gardener in Double-Red Daisies, with poetry by Rennell Rodd and a miniature - The Daisy by Canadian poet Marjorie Pickthall.

Looking towards the future….

There’s nothing like a deadline to get the creative blood flowing, so I decided to attend the National Opera Association’s Convention in San Antonio this past January to display my latest offerings with Graphite Publishing. Founded by the married team of award-winning composers Jocelyn Hagen and Timothy Takach, Graphite brings increased exposure to new composers while making it easy to purchase and download new vocal music.

In San Antonio I enjoyed attending the great seminars and hearing all of the new works, but I was truly inspired by actually meeting and talking with the singers, teachers and new composers. I can’t wait to collaborate with the gorgeous mezzo Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber, a Saskatoon native and “sometime poet”. I’m also looking forward to working with Phillip Seward, a talented singer, pianist and opera composer out of Chicago. He’s in the throes of setting up Musica Voce, a vocal composer’s collective which will soon be online.

I was encouraged to attend the conference by singer and teacher Kimberley Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto, the director of the El Paso Youth Opera. This talented group, aged 12 – 18, performed the children’s opera Brundibar at the convention and to my surprise and delight, included some of my Northland songs in their presentation. I was absolutely stunned by the depth of study these young singers had already embarked upon and was so impressed with the amazing talent, teaching and promise coming out of one of the poorer cities in the US. It had never occurred to me that my little art songs could bridge a gap from folk songs to youth opera and suddenly my totally selfish act of composing immediately took a deeper and more altruistic turn. So you can imagine what I’m up to now – yes – you guessed it - writing a children’s opera with writer Janet Windeler Ryan as my partner in crime. I’ll keep you posted!

1 comment:

  1. Recording, performing and teaching the songs of Singing in the Northland have been a treat - Martha is an open and sensitive composer who really understands the needs of the singer. I look forward to more from Martha!