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Monday, February 22, 2016

The Lola Ridge songs, in one convenient blog post

Three generations of women composers at the Volti Choral Institute: me (duh), high school senior Morgan Orsolini, whose choral work Awaken Again was among those performed, and the incomparable composer/pianist/conductor Sue Bohlin

A few weeks ago, I returned to frigid Philadelphia from California and immediately came down with a nasty case of the flu. My bad for procrastinating getting a flu shot this year until I forgot about it, but I'm also feeling some animosity toward the lady who open-mouth-coughed on me at the Saint Louis Airport on the trip home. I'm sure it was her. 

Then my cat Tripoli passed away last week. She was about 14 and it was her time to go, but both Matt and I are still a bit choked-up over it.

It's time to get back on the horse, though, especially since I am in happy possession of the results of my California trip: live recordings of all of my Lola Ridge songs.

To recap: back in 2014, I composed a treble choral setting of an excerpt from Sun-Up by Lola Ridge, a poet whose path from growing up in New Zealand to attending college in Sydney to immigrating to New York mirrors my own journey from Brisbane to Sydney to Philadelphia. She didn't begin writing poetry until she reached America in her thirties, which recalls my own "late" start as a composer in my mid-twenties, a sacrilege in the youth-obsessed world of classical music. And in another parallel with my career, the subject matter of her work was more often than not political and focused on social justice. I wrote about my connection to her and the composition of that first song, It's Strange About Stars in a blog entry at the time.

Bob Geary, the Artistic Director of San-Francisco-based choir Volti (I was their Choral Arts Laboratory composer-in-residence a couple of years ago and wrote The Oath of Allegiance for them) picked up what I was putting down, and approached me about commissioning a couple more songs to complete the set. I wrote Shadows over a cradle... a few months later for a young women's choir he directs, Ancora, then completed Different kinds of shadows last fall for the Volti Choral Institute.

The Choral Institute is a weekend-long gathering for high school choir groups; there's an SATB camp in the fall and an SSAA camp in the winter. Several high school choirs of an exceptionally high standard gather north of San Francisco (near Bohemian Grove!) and spend a weekend learning new music, rehearsing, and participating in workshops. It was wonderful, in all senses of the word. As someone who grew up at a girls' school singing in girl choirs, I felt so completely at home watching these talented and enthusiastic young women sing. And I was so overwhelmed and proud to be their composer—and a woman composer among young women. I tried to inspired them to compose their own works one day (see photo above—one student has already written her own remarkable choir piece, which her choir performed while there!), but more than that, I wanted them to see that the world is theirs if they aren't afraid to express themselves and look beyond whatever boxes society wants to build for them. In part, the proximity to Bohemian Grove made me want to rant: LOOK! OVER THERE! The most powerful men in the world are TERRIFIED of you! The patriarchy has spent thousands of years LITERALLY BURNING TO DEATH women who dare to express themselves and work together and fulfill their potential. They are so scared of you, they have banned you from their ritual costume parties; why else would they do so if you weren't full of such power and potential? They don't want you to rock the boat. ROCK. THE. BOAT. ROCK IT.

I tried to say some of this in a speech toward the end of the weekend, but I got emotional and I'm not sure it came out right.

Nevertheless, here are the videos from the final performance of the Lola Ridge songs, after only a few hours total of rehearsal. The titles above link to the pages on this website where you can download the score (for free!).

Shadows over a cradle...


 

It's strange about stars...




Different kinds of shadows




*     *     *

Coincidentally, just after I got home, my pre-ordered copy of a new (and the first ever) Lola Ridge biography arrived in the mail: Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet, written by Terese Svoboda. It is meticulously researched (over 150 pages of footnotes and bibliography!), and so far a fascinating exploration of a feminist leftist revolutionary whose voice was so ahead of her time—and most importantly, it's a great read. Pick it up:

http://amzn.to/1oyw6TY
 
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