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Saturday, July 03, 2021

For the purpose of this newsletter, it's June 33nd


Hello hello! If you're getting this newsletter for the first time and you don't know why, it's probably because you bought some music of mine on Bandcamp in the last year—unsubscribe if you hate it, I won't be mad! It's been a whole eight weeks since my last newsletter because as you can probably tell from the photo above, my archaeological pursuit kicked into high gear again and stole any spare time I might have had in between composing too much music. If anyone has any tips on balancing life as a freelance composer with life as a citizen archaeologist, both of which seem to be full-time jobs (plus overtime), I am open to suggestions. I do have some good news to report on this front: later this month, I will be bringing on an managerial assistant and possibly also an intern or two as well to help with the load, but of course that will mean the schedule will be even worse for a while because I'll have to figure out how to organize myself enough to delegate. Thank you everyone for your patience!

I'll talk about the new archaeology exploits further down—first let's blast through all the music news.


If you've been subscribed for a while, you might remember a couple paragraphs I wrote somewhere in the middle of the pandemic about how criminal it is that classical music doesn't center composition as a core practice. Over the following months, I honed that rant as a guest speaker in countless Zoom classrooms to the point where I figured it was time to create a definitive version. After I uploaded this, it got shared around a fair bit—not just in classical music circles, but also among jazz musicians and even coders. Take a squiz if you haven't already, and maybe share with your music educator friends:
The most intensive part of editing this video was creating the captions (in a former life, I was a TV closed captioner, so busting out those skills again was quite the throwback), but it was worth it to make it more accessible, and to let you play it muted if you prefer, just in case anyone out there hates listening to the sound of my voice as much as the occasional misogynist Apple Podcasts reviewer lol


Apparently a slew of performers in Britain has been programming my music the last couple of weeks, which is very frustrating because there is an ocean and an ongoing pandemic standing in the way of my attendance. A couple of these performances are available for you to watch/listen to after the fact though:

            -   The BBC Singers (!!!) conducted by Nicholas Chalmers performed Halcyon Days at the Nevill Holt Opera June Festival, and a recording of the concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (!!!) this week. Tune in here (the whole concert is great, but if you're pressed for time, Halcyon Days kicks off at 1:47:30):  

            -   At a church you might have heard of called St Martin-in-the-Fields (!!!), Anna Lapwood (!!!) conducted St Martin's Voices in a gorgeous program "Upon your Heart," which contained the aforementioned Halcyon Days and O Oriens. You can purchase tickets to watch online for £10 until August 31:


A few newsletters ago I posted a mysterious photo from a recording session in a church, and now I can reveal the purpose: Opera Philadelphia recorded one of the choruses from the Gonzales Cantata, "Loyalty Over Judgment" for their annual Organ Stops concert, part of their 2021-2022 season. COVID isn't done yet, so the concert won't be live, but Opera Philly has been pioneering the concept of a digital opera channel and producing gorgeous content for everyone to experience from the comfort of their own homes, anywhere in the world. The Organ Stops concert will go live on July 16; you can purchase a subscription to the Opera Philadelphia channel for $9.99 per month or $99 per year; it's more than worth it to support all the work they've been doing pushing this art form forward into the 21st century. Whet your appetite with this trailer: 
The Opera Philadelphia Chorus will headline “Organ Day” which will feature music by Verdi, Wagner, and a number of modern composers including Hannah Kendall, Melissa Dunphy, Marcus DeLoach, and David Hurd.


Earlier this year, I completed a choral sea shanty for the choir at Mizzou: Sailing Away (sheet music available at that link) uses text by late 19th-century poet Isabel Grimes Richey (born 1858 in Lancaster, MO). Of course, I was a little bit inspired by the TikTok sea shanty craze—but also excuse me and FYI, I've written sea shanty influenced music before, TRENDS SCHMENDS. Listen to the premiere of Sailing Away by the University of Missouri University Singers, conducted by R. Paul Crabb, below:
Sailing Away begins around 23 minutes in if you're pressed for time...


At the last choral conference I attended—ACDA East in Rochester NY right before the pandemic shutdown—I heard a choir from Central Bucks High School West sing. I was bowled over by their concert, and when it was done, I beelined for the conductor and basically threw myself at them, wide-eyed and hungry for a commission. So I'm thrilled to report that this year, I wrote them a new work for TTBB chorus with (spoiler) surprise solo soprano, When the Time Comes. This song uses text from an interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg (with kind permission from her surviving relatives), and I can't release the sheet music yet, but I'm so happy to show you this recording from the choir's end-of-semester concert: 
When the Time Comes, sung by the Central Bucks High School-West Mens Choir and soloist Sierra Safran, Joseph Ohrt conducting.


Santa Monica College Choir and Chorosynthesis recently released a new online concert "Righting Our Wrongs," featuring three student compositions and the second performance of my multi-movement work Amendment: Righting Our Wrongs, commissioned by the Votes for Women Consortium and premiered under the co-direction of Jeremiah Selvey and Wendy Moy. (NB the score for this work is not yet publicly available to give all the choirs in the consortium the chance to premiere the work.)
Soprano Dana Varga and violist Drew Ricciardi gave a cracking live performance of my arrangement of the Bob Dylan song Farewell, Angelina
Soprano Noelle McMurtry created two stunning films featuring my music for a larger capstone project at Peabody, and I'm excited to share them with you. With cinematography from Elizabeth van Os and direction/audio engineering from Caroline Miller—who both sang in IN Series's film of the Gonzales Cantata last year—I'm of the firm opinion that this is how music films should be done! Take note! Here's June (poetry by Lauren Rile Smith, a line of which formed the title of the entire capstone project, "I take the long way there").
And here's another take on Farewell, Angelina, with Flavia Pajaro-van de Stadt on viola.
Another fabulous music film was created by violinist Barbora Kolářová and filmmaker Marc Webster for the May TURN UP Festival: this time for Theme and Variables: Scallops and Bollocks for Tea. I love how irreverent this is—and also how masterfully performed!
Have I mentioned lately that dancers are amazing? The National Arts Diversity Integration Association brought together choreographers and composers for Opus Illuminate: ACFA 2021, and one of the works featured was June #1. It's magical, you have to check it out. Also please consider donating to NADIA; all donations will go to supporting the incredible artists, production costs, and venues.


            -   Super special! Little Shadow Productions paired me with the extraordinary musician Dawn Avery for a conversation in their "Share The Mic Mondays" series. Dawn is warm and smart and fascinating and we literally could have talked for hours—I feel like we only just scratched the surface here. We share so many themes in our work even though we come from very different backgrounds, and there was so much to explore.

            -   I also did an interview with Concord Women's Chorus about a work I wrote for them, Grown Wild (coming soon), along with poet Melissa Apperson. I can't wait to see these enthusiastic and thoughtful singers at the live premiere down the line.


            -   What are you doing April 9, 2022? Will you be anywhere near NYC? Yes, I know that's a long way in the future, but I'm just saying, I'm scheduled to make my Carnegie Hall debut... 

            -   Oh, will you be on the other side of the country next spring? No worries, Bay Choral Guild has you covered, you can go listen to something I wrote there instead...

            -   Earlier this year, Aural Compass filmed a riveting concert performance: "Before Body Meet Earth," which features a new piano-vocal arrangement of my song for baritone Black Thunder (lyrics by Luke Stromberg, originally written for Network for New Music for baritone and piano trio). If you missed the live stream, never fear: they will be releasing the video of the concert in the fall. For a little taste and some insight, watch this quick interview between singers CodyRay Caho and Chelsea Fingal DeSouza:


            -   Austen Wilson has been blogging for ChoralNet, and he's written two posts that discuss my work with the choir PhilHarmonia. Read Modulating/Adjusting to a New Era: Transitions in Music, Part 1 and Part 2.

            -   At last year's National Puppetry Conference at the O'Neill, I was hugely honored to contribute music to a piece by Katayoun Amir-Aslani about sexual assault at Gettysburg College. Katayoun's story, and that of fellow surviver Shannon Keeler, was recently picked up by Associated Press, leading to the possibility of justice for both of them. It frankly sucks that some victims need to get national press to pressure authorities to act in a rape case, despite the existence of witnesses, evidence, and a confession, and I'm so angry on their behalf.

            -   This past month, I did sound design for a LIVE THEATRE SHOW, WHAAAAT. It's true: Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu  was staged at Hawthorne Park here in Philly in a co-production by Theater Exile and Theatre in the X, led by one of my favorite directors to work with in the whole wide world, Ozzie Jones (who, incidentally, is keen to direct an opera, and I've made it my life's mission to do everything I can to help him achieve that goal because he would be FIRE at directing an opera. FIRE. If you are looking for a director, get in touch, he is worth his weight in gold.) Anyway, the show got this nice write-up that mentions my sound design in American Theatre magazine, woot!


There's a part of me that's really irritated by the timing of this, because after a year of cleaning, sorting, and assembling, I had almost finished processing all the finds from our last privy dig (our South Privy), and was on the verge of reclaiming my kitchen counters for their intended purpose. But there was nothing I could do to postpone the action when construction started on an empty lot between our building and I-95, and the foundation pit exposed two 7-foot-diameter brick-lined privies plainly visible from our back deck. This lot is owned by the architect that designed our building, so we had full permission to dig—but not to delay construction, which meant we had to move as quickly as possible. Of course, because the privy gods (demons?) have the cruelest senses of humor, this happened during a week when Matt was traveling for work, which meant we were already one digger down for some of the window of time we had to excavate.

On the first night, privy diggers Michael and Tom (whom we interviewed on The Boghouse) came over to help, and a test pit revealed that, indeed, at least one of the privies was chock-full of artifacts from the second half of the 18th century. On the second night, with Matt out of town, Kevin the farmer (who helped us dig another privy on our block a couple years ago) took his place and attacked the other privy, a hellacious pit full of heavy clay, containing a glut of interesting bottles and ceramics from the late 18th-century through to the late 19th-century. In a surprise twist, Tom (whom I swear has some kind of mystical ability when it comes to finding pits) found two more privies nearby: a wood-lined shorter privy that didn't contain very much, and a 4-foot-diameter pit in the middle of the site which I guessed correctly would be solidly mid-18th century, about the same vintage as the lower half of our South Privy. We dug down more than ten feet, finishing near midnight, and my pandemic-softened body was all but paralyzed with fatigue and pain the next day.

By the weekend we had rallied the troops: Matt came home, Duncan (a trained archaeologist who also helped with our South Privy dig) rocked up with his son, Michael brought his son Louis, and I put the call out to other interested parties (including local news anchor Sarah Bloomquist and her family, a couple of archaeologists who work at the Museum of the American Revolution and the National Park Service, and even one of my composition students, Adah!) and we all descended on the pits. Long story short: we have hundreds more pounds of dirty sherds to process in the coming months, and I've lost the use of my kitchen counters again.

But it's worth it. Even a preliminary survey of the multiple tubs of sherds has yielded some really exciting artifacts, including unique redware, delft, ceramics and glass that refer to well-known historical figures of the 1700s, and a handful of Native American trade beads. Stay tuned. And again, thanks for your patience. I'm so tired!


Copyright © 2021 Mormolyke Press, All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Slaving over hot staves


Today I am exactly 15,000 days old, so happy birthday to me! A much cooler milestone than my 41st birthday last month.

Last week, I got my second Pfizer vaccination, so in one more week, I will theoretically have a decent level of immunity against the pandemic that has been ravaging the world, and particularly the nation where I live. Getting vaccinated at this point is not only the smartest choice, but an act of patriotism, a whole new way of getting shot for your country, so to speak. I hope you got yours!

Before I begin on the laundry list of things I've done since my last newsletter, a note to everyone who has been trying to contact me lately: I am ***overwhelmed*** with work and struggling to keep my breathing holes above water, so thank you for being patient with me! I have hundreds of e-mails in my inbox that require replies, and if I replied to all of them in a timely fashion, I wouldn't have any time left over to write music, which is a problem because writing music is my actual job and I am over deadline on several projects.

The good news for my mental health is that I have deliberately scaled back my work commitments after the summer to give my brain some time to recover, because I am teetering on the brink of burn-out—ach, who am I kidding, I am totally already burned out but I am pushing through it, which is not the healthiest choice, but the only thing I can do to meet my current contractual obligations. How did this happen? Welp, even though I had reached a point in my career where I had gotten much better about saying no, when the pandemic hit last year, I panicked and said yes to pretty much every paid opportunity that came along. They are all great and exciting opportunities! But under different circumstances, I would have looked ahead and realized my schedule of cascading deadlines was psychologically unfeasible.

I've been loath to say too much about this situation because even though it's hellish, it feels insensitive to discuss openly; I know plenty of colleagues who have no work, or not enough work, and who are dropping out of our industry in droves. Seems kinda gauche to complain about being overwhelmed with work while they struggle. But even though my bank account is surprisingly healthy (after all, it's not as though I can spend any of my earnings travelling or eating out, and I don't even have time or mental space to organize construction on the Hannah Callowhill Stage right now, which is another problem), it's not much fun to be composing for literally 18 hours a day. Yes, literally 18 hours a day. I get six hours' sleep a night because I'm slaving over hot staves constantly, and I barely even have time to talk to my husband. And I'm still behind because creativity has been a much slower process than usual.

Anyway, I know several of you are sending follow-up e-mails and leaving voicemail messages, and I will get to them as I am able, but gosh, it's a lot right now, and UGHGHGHGH I WANT A VACATION. I'm sure we all do!

Here, in no particular order is, a round-up of some of the results of this flurry of career activity:


Totally out of the blue, this month I found myself on a list of Philly Power Women, curated by the editors of Metro Philadelphia. Please imagine the expression of disbelief on my face! There are some amazing people on that list, like councilmembers Helen Gym and Kendra Brooks (who helped to lead several protests I attended last year). Also some people with whom I have absolutely nothing in common. But it's a list of "power women," and remember, power is not necessarily always a good thing, hahaha.

(I don't feel particularly powerful, except when I am using a circular saw.)


What did I do for fun this month? I wrote an article for VAN magazine. Please enjoy my impassioned defense of Ravel's Boléro, which is a very good piece of music, actually. Non-musicians sometimes find it hard to believe, but among classical musicians, this is a controversial view. However, I'm pleased to report that I have not heard a PEEP from the Boléro-haters since this was published, so I assume that my arguments are unimpeachable and shut them all up.



Some of these are new, some are back-accouncements from the previous newsletter which have now premiered and are available for you to watch:
I am such a huge fan of the LA-based choir Tonality, and they've created yet another stunning video—but this time, I'm extra thrilled because it's my song #UnitedWeDream from American DREAMers, with text by Claudia D. Hernández (btw, you should buy her book Knitting the Fog, which is gorgeous.)
Did you miss the premiere of Remember the Ladies last month? Never fear! See the video above, or settle in and watch the whole event with fascinating guest speakers on Vimeo.

The Broad Street Review gave it a glowing review!

P.S. When you're done, I encourage you to take this survey to encourage the museum to engage in more of this creative programming.
The DIVINE Raehann Bryce-Davis put together this heartbreakingly beautiful and powerful recital for the Schubert Club, and included Come My Tan-Faced Children on the program!
If you missed the premiere of Amendment: Righting Our Wrongs last year, the recording of Chorosynthesis performing it is now available on YouTube. The fourth movement is the weeper, if you're looking to get your eyes wet.
Choir Matrix's premiere of Witch-Wife is also now available on their YouTube channel. This is a treble-chorus setting of a text by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I'm so proud of how it turned out! The score will be available once Choir Matrix have had a chance to premiere it in person.
Here too is the Seattle Pro Musica performance of another of my treble favorites Wild Embers. Includes an interview with yours truly for their Choral Tapas series. 
This was a surprise for me, and what a delightful surprise! Legendary conductor Philip Brunelle chose to highlight my music for this Musical Moment YouTube series. I screamed when I saw this! Such an honor. He plays my choral works on the piano straight from the score! *I* can't even do that, hahahaha! Yes, I suck at the piano.
The Parish Choir of Christ Episcopal Church, Los Altos, under the direction of Eric Tuan, put together a virtual performance of A New Heart. I know how much effort goes into all these virtual choir projects (it's so much more than you think), and it's amazing to see church choirs connecting to the music and going to the trouble even when they can't rehearse in person.


Even though I've been too busy to do my own podcast this past year, I've been talking more than ever in interviews and other people's podcasts. So if, for some reason, you need to hear my voice and I'm not returning your phone calls because I'm chained to my mouse in agony over the next double barline, try one of these lol

            -   An interview with Alexander Lloyd Blake of Tonality, in which I discuss music that engages with issues of social justice

            -   An interview with Toni Marie Palmertree of Berks Youth Chorus about my experiences as a female composer

            -   An Irish-coffee soaked interview with Brad Pierson of the podcast Composer Happy Hour  (you can
also watch the video version on YouTube)

            -   An interview with Keturah Stickann of Words First podcast about creating my own libretto for the Gonzales Cantata, and opera composing in general

            -   An interview with Zane Fiala and Giacomo DiGrigoli of In Unison podcast, along with the always kickass Zanaida S. Robles and Christie McKinney, about the Black Voices Matter pledge and our work in choral music.


A work I wrote a couple of years ago, confusingly called Work, has been released by Galaxy/ECSchirmer and is now available through them! I wrote this initially for the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Chancel Choir,  and the text is adapted from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

The score for Remember the Ladies is also now available on my website. It's self-published, so you can download the PDF right away! Spread the word to your SATB choir directors and friends...


I've been putting the finishing touches on the first draft of my score for episode six of Everything for Dawn, a huge collaborative project for the NYC-based company Experiments in Opera. The first workshop will be later this year, and I can't wait to see it up on its feet. Everything for Dawn explores the complicated relationship between a daughter and her mentally ill father, a story which resonated intensely with me as someone who also grew up with a mentally ill parent. Although I didn't choose the story, I was surprised at all the coincidental similarities between Dawn's life and my own. My episode is set in 1995, when 16-year-old Dawn visits her father in a psychiatric hospital for the first time; I was 15 in 1995, and although I was a practiced old hand at psych hospital visits by that age, so many of the conversations Dawn has with her father in the libretto echo actual conversations and emotions I experienced back then. I think (hope) it's going to be a really meaningful work (with some surprising humor too). Oh, and without really intending to at the outset, I think I injected some of my love of nineties rock/punk into the mix? You'll see ;)

I'm writing a song for soprano Laura Strickling's 40@40 project, setting a wonderful poem by my regular collaborator Jacqueline Goldfinger. Stay tuned!

A final note, and a sad one, I'm afraid: last week, one of my teachers at Penn, James Primosch, passed away. This has been such a cruel and bitter year for so many, and I was particularly heartbroken last year when I heard Jim was sick—I found out when I was tapped to take over one of his classes. You can read his obituary in the Inquirer, and I posted some of my remembrances on Twitter, and I also encourage you to donate in his name to the neighborhood charity he supported, Face to Face.

Please be well, and be safe, and get your vaccination if you can, and I hope to see you in person sometime soon...

Till next month-ish,
Melissa Dunphy
Copyright © 2021 Mormolyke Press, All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Catch it quick: Cantus concert "Alone Together" available until Jan 31


This has been a distracting month. Well, I guess all the months since the pandemic began have been unusually stressful and distracting, but January 2021 was over the top. It turns out it's difficult to work on creative projects during or in the aftermath of an anti-democratic right-wing insurrection. Add in a few personal whirlwinds (we put our little Downingtown house on the market and received 30 offers in one weekend, our beloved Dodge Magnum gave up the ghost, necessitating a quick hunt for a new (used) car, and Matt accidentally tripped over our dopey elderly cat Moonlight and broke her leg), and getting anything at all done recently has been a struggle. But to be frank, I force myself to dig down and find the motivation to put dots on parallel lines every day because I know how lucky I am to have work. COVID-19 has devastated the lives and careers of so many, and at some level, I feel my good fortune comes packaged with the responsibility to keep going, even when it's hard to focus.

So here's a quick update on the music front, beginning with an urgent alert: Cantus (ahhh I love them so much!) performed a TTBB arrangement of my Lola Ridge setting "It's strange about stars..." in a concert this week, and you have until January 31, which is today or tomorrow depending on your time zone, to watch it! The concert is called 'Alone Together' and was performed live—yes, LIVE!—at the Ordway Center in St. Paul. The singers quarantined for two weeks and were rigorously tested so they could sing together on the same stage. Here's their copy:

Cantus’ newly reimagined program Alone Together draws inspiration from their American Public Media special of the same name as well as their hugely popular ‘COVID-19 Sessions’—an online series with nearly two million views released in the early days of the pandemic. What does it mean to ‘stay connected’ in our digital age and how can we build and maintain healthy community and relationships within the context of social media and social-distance? Cantus seeks to meditate on this unique moment in history and offer music and reflections that allow us to laugh, cry, and imagine a brighter future for ourselves, our communities, and our world. Cantus shows off their trademark stylistic range with an impressive breadth of repertoire from Libby Larsen and David Lang all the way to Ingrid Michaelson and Simon & Garfunkel. This program is not to be missed.

Go check it out by clicking here! Tickets are $20, but of course it's worth it—it's Cantus.

By the way, if you're looking for the score, I've put it up on my website: It's strange about stars... (TTBB).

Speaking of January 31, I will also be appearing in a meet-the-composer series for the LA-based Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra in under 24 hours. You can watch it here on Facebook:

I'm currently writing KCO a piece: a viola concerto called Treason. Yeah. It's actually a project I'd been planning since 2018, but I'm making some revisions, thanks to recent events.

June #2 video from Amy Petrongelli

The wonderful soprano Amy Petrongelli, who recorded June #1 last year, is back with another gorgeous video performance of the follow-up. This work will form part of a program with Khemia Emsemble later this spring.
June #2 by Melissa Dunphy, poem by Lauren Rile Smith.
Amy Petrongelli, voice & looper pedal
Audio/Video by Eric Dluzniewski


Gonzales Cantata organ score now available

Did you catch the Invision In Series performance of the Gonzales Cantata yet? It's still up (and it's free!), so you have a little more time. But also, I'm releasing the score of the organ arrangement I created for this show, and like most of my self-published scores, it's freely available. Find it on my website here.

A Slice of Pie score is also ready to eat

If you enjoyed the Mendelssohn Club's premiere of A Slice of Pie above, you can now download that score on my website too.

Incidentally, I often get confused inquiries about how much my sheet music costs / hey, the copy protection doesn't appear to be working on your PDFs / wait wait wait, you can't possibly be giving this sheet music away for free, can you? Last year I discussed this issue in an article by fellow composer Lisa Neher for New Music Box, so if you're curious, scroll down to the last section and check it out. In Lisa's words: "Because I love to rock the boat, I asked composer Melissa Dunphy to share her “radical” (as she puts it) approach to score distribution with me. Dunphy, best known for her social justice-inspired choral music, makes all of her self-published scores free to download on her website..."

I'll be expanding on this a little in a panel on music publishing for American Composers Orchestra on February 10. I'll try not to rant too hard, but this is an issue about which I have some strong opinions! Register to watch the panel here: ACO Professional Development Panel: Publishing, Self-Publishing, and Management for Composers 

Miss the premiere of Amendment last month? Never fear!

You can still hear the Chorosynthesis Singers premiere of my multi-movement work about voting rights, Amendment: Righting Our Wrongs, at the Facebook live link below, along with performances by the choirs of Santa Monica College:
There's also a little interview appearance beforehand!

Things are not exactly slowing down for me this spring. I have three commission premieres coming up: Grown Wild for Concord Women's Chorus (poetry by Melissa Apperson), Sailing Away for the University of Missouri University Singers (poetry by the pioneering 19th-century poet Isabel Grimes Richey, btw yes I did watch a lot of TikTok sea shanties before writing this song), and Remember the Ladies, a special commission by the Museum of the American Revolution, which sets part of the famous 1776 letter by Abigail Adams that is being exhibited there right now! That last one will be premiered virtually by my friends at PhilHarmonia in March. Stay tuned for details on all of these. I'm excited!
Abigail Adams: "Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors."

Meanwhile, I still have a few thousand dots to put on parallel lines, because the deadlines aren't letting up until the summer at least ... and then there's the opera. And the other opera. It's a lot. Wish me luck!

Here are some photos of poor peg-legged Moonlight getting all the attention around here.


Copyright © 2021 Mormolyke Press, All rights reserved.