As the New Year rolls in and things seem to once again be upside-down and full of the unknown, we are staying optimistic and hopeful for the light at the end of the tunnel! We had several incredible and touching opportunities to return to music-making for live audiences this past November, and engaging and exciting conversations with the composers we are commissioning continue, and it is through these experiences that we remain hopeful. The beautiful thing about composition is that composers work in solitude – writing requires isolation and quiet and time – as does the learning of such pieces.
Here is a bit of what we’ve been up to in 2021:
In August, we were fortunate to be able to spend two weeks at Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire – a retreat for professional musicians who seek to work on a specific project for an intense period of time. Our first commission, “Three Adaptations” by Taiwanese-American composer Yiheng Yvonne Wu arrived, completed, the first day of our residency. Over the two weeks at Avaloch, we worked on Yvonne’s piece, sending her bits of recordings and working with her over Zoom. We also started to put together the remaining works on our “Of Innocence, Loss, and Healing – Songs My Mother Taught Me” recital program – song transcriptions of Mahler and Dvorak, Janacek’s Pohadka (Fairy Tale), and works by Nadia Boulanger, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and William Grant Still. Our residency at Avaloch was an important and special time for us – it was the first time in 18 months that we found ourselves amongst fellow musicians, engaging in conversations about music and performing for each other. We knew how much we had all, as musicians, given up during the first year and a half of the pandemic, but we didn’t really know how much we had given up until we got there.
We premiered Yvonne’s piece at Susquehanna University (PA) in early November, and then we took our program on a tour to Wisconsin and Minnesota. You can find a video recording here of the last concert on our tour – at a church in Beloit, Wisconsin – where Yvonne is the composition professor. After we returned home, Yvonne’s composition students wrote about our performance – here are a couple of their responses. This is why we perform and share with audiences.
“Seeing you two perform together was awe inspiring. I don’t usually listen to much classical music, but the entire performance I was transfixed. I appreciate the time and energy you both put into coming to our little campus. Thank you!”
“Thank you so much! This was such an incredible experience, and it blew me away. The performance was amazing and had points that were very emotional for me. Absolutely beautiful and I am so appreciative you all came to Beloit!”
“Seeing such world class musicians like the two of you performing in a church in such a humble place like Beloit is probably my most memorable and fulfilling experience this senior year. Thank you for bringing art and your passions to us.”
“It was an honor to see such reverence for the emotion of music. Your performance shows your mastery and I appreciate you sharing your interpretations of the pieces with such grace. Your intuition and flow were inspiring and engaging to me, and reminded me of the importance of presence within performance. Thank you for coming and making an impact!”
So what does 2022 hold for us? We are currently awaiting our second commissioned work, from Navajo Juantio Becenti – we should receive the work towards the end of this month! Juantio has selected the Navajo song “Shi Naasha” that was composed after the Navajo left Ft. Sumner where they had been imprisoned for numerous years after conflicts with the US, Mexico, and various other Native American tribes aligned with the US. Juantio writes that “after (this) period of conflict the Navajo were rounded up in 1864 and forced on a walk from our traditional homelands to an internment camp 300+ miles away. Many Navajo died during that journey and those that survived were imprisoned until 1868 when a treaty was signed. The Navajo homeland is bordered by 4 mountains with the southern-most being called Tsoodzil (turquoise mountain) or Mt. Taylor in New Mexico. When the returning Navajo saw the mountain, they were overcome with joy and composed Shi Naasha. It talks about going in beauty and freedom.”
Our third and fourth composers to be commissioned – Ugandan-American Niles Luther and Chinese-Samoan/Hawaiian Michael Thomas Foumai – are working on our pieces, with the goal of completing them in August of 2022. Please stay tuned for more information on their works!
We are hoping that this performance season can continue as close to normal as possible – there will definitely be some hiccups along the way, but we are hoping for the best. In early February we will perform again at Susquehanna University (where Naomi teaches), during a day of colloquiums and programs celebrating the work of Martin Luther King. We are preparing a program entitled “What is Identity? Where Do I Belong? Answers In Music.” Many of the composers featured on our program have agreed to record videos speaking about how they find, express, and communicate their sense of identity and belonging, and their sense of culture, in their compositions. We will intersperse these videos with performances of Yvonne’s piece, Juantio’s piece, and of two more works: “Jhula-Jhule” by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail, and “Brother Malcolm…” by Haitian composer Rudy Perrault.
We have additional performances in the works in New York and Connecticut this spring, and if the pandemic allows, a performance on WVIA public radio here in Pennsylvania. In the meantime, we are working on setting up performances in North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, and hope to be able to visit and perform for K-12 schools once pandemic restrictions subside – we will keep you posted!
And lastly, we want to thank you again for your generous support in our project – without your support we would not be able to continue forging ahead. We had a very successful fund-raising year, which has allowed us to contact additional composers to inquire about their interest in composing a piece for our project. We are speaking with composers from Haiti, Peru, and the Chickasaw nation. As things become finalized, we will send you an update and post on our website as well.
We wish you a happy and healthy 2022, full of curiosity and new experiences!
-- Naomi and An-Lin, January 2022
Listening to Yiheng Yvonne Wu speak about her piece,"Three Adaptations," in Beloit, WI.