Curation is one of my favourite facets of artistry. I adore researching diverse composers, exploring compositions across different eras, genres and styles, and pondering the themes of individual works and how they fit into larger structures. For this blog post, I reflect upon my curation process for my upcoming concert with Illuminate Women’s Music on May 19, 2021.
This process began back in August 2020 when Dr. Angela Slater and I reconnected through a virtual concert featuring the premiere of her solo double bass cycle: A door to yesterday. After some conversation, I was delighted when Dr. Slater invited me to perform on Illuminate Women’s Music 2020-2021 virtual concert series! One piece that I knew I definitely wanted to program was Dr. Kamala Sankaram’s “Ololyga” for solo voice and electronics. Dr. Sankaram’s piece was inspired by Anne Carson’s essay The Gender of Sound, which defines an “Ololyga” as “a high pitched piercing cry uttered at certain climactic moments in ritual practice...or at climactic moments in real life...and also a common feature of women’s festivals” (Carson -- 125).
As the months wore on, one of my mentors suggested that I apply for a New York Women Composers, Inc. (NYWC) seed grant in conjunction with this concert. One of the grant requirements was a “presentation of a concert featuring the works of three or more composer-members of New York Women Composers for at least half of the project’s time-length. At least one of the NYWC composers chosen must be new to the performers.” While researching the composers in NYWC before applying, I noticed that several had works for voice and piano, which inspired me to invite my wonderful pianist colleague, Julia Scott Carey, to collaborate on the concert.
After a competitive process, I was one of 4 performers chosen to receive a grant from New York Women Composers, Inc.! Shortly thereafter, NYWC arranged a call for scores for its members to submit pieces for this performance. While analyzing the 48 submissions, the curatory process truly began.
Through the lens of “Ololyga,” I decided that my concert would tie into themes of embracing women’s voices and ritual. However, given this ‘top-down’ approach, I quickly grew frustrated trying to find pieces that were explicitly related to these themes. Upon using a ‘bottom-up approach,’ I felt the program start to curate itself organically. Whenever I considered a piece, I asked myself the following questions:
These questions guided my program through several iterations, as I explored the 48 NYWC submissions and several other compositions by non-NYWC composers. Significantly, this process of critical inquiry took a spiritual turn as I began to view each composition as an entity with a soul. When engaging with a piece, I imagined myself asking it, “What is your story?” “Do you want to be on this program, and if so, where?”
Upon deciding to start the program with Sabrina Peña Young’s gorgeous solo vocal arrangement of “Light” from her Creation Oratorio and end with Beata Moon’s emotionally poignant “Time to Reflect,” the outer edges of the program came into focus, providing a trajectory from the cosmos to the soul.
From there, Anne Phillips’s hauntingly beautiful song cycle, An Alaskan Trilogy, naturally came after “Light” -- given the prevalence of G minor in both works, the cyclical nature of the lyrics (“Light” celebrating daybreak and An Alaskan Trilogy starting with poet, Phoebe Newman’s evocation: “Every evening, the world is reborn”), and the idea of moving from the large-scale cosmos to the smaller-scale Earth.
As the programming process went on, I noticed connections between certain pieces. For instance, while considering Svjetlana Bukvich’s “Tattoo” from her dance commission Interior Designs, I noticed that Dr. Sankaram, the composer of “Ololyga,” gave the world premiere of the piece! I immediately programmed “Tattoo” directly after “Ololyga,” enjoying the striking musical juxtaposition, how the narrative moved from “self” to “self in relation to others,” and the homage to Dr. Sankaram’s multifaceted artistry.
(Link to Interior Designs) - commissioned by Carolyn Dorman Dance. Start at 21:54 to hear Dr. Sankaram’s premiere of “Tattoo.”
Another programmatic connection occurs between Dr. Niloufar Nourbakhsh’s “The Window” and Mason Bynes’s “The House,” both of which address different kinds of love. Dr. Nourbakhsh writes in her program note: “We all have a window within ourselves to surpass time, surpass injustices, and to achieve freedom. And in order to open this window within us, we can do nothing but deliriously love.” In contrast, Ms. Bynes’s “The House” “captures the buzzing anxiousness of a first love, with repetitive tones of endearment and sweet nothings.” Perhaps it’s subjective, but I like to imagine that in Dr. Nourbakhsh’s piece, we are seeing one window in the corner of Ms. Bynes’s house, and between the two pieces, the mind’s eye zooms out to encapsulate the entire house built on a foundation of love.
An important lesson that I learned throughout the process was to allow for change. Initially, there was a song cycle that I really wanted to feature, but no matter where I tried placing it, it didn’t fit well with the rest of the program. Frustrated, I chose not to program the cycle, and instead research some other works. Less than an hour after that decision, I was listening to Margaret Bonds’s unapologetically feminist and deliciously chromatic song cycle, Six Songs on Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I knew that I had to sing it. By marrying instinct and analysis, I was able to physically feel when my programming was in alignment and justify my choices intellectually and emotionally.
Finally, one of the loveliest surprises was when my collaborator, Julia Scott Carey, offered to play two solo piano works-- Mari Kotskyy’s “Winter Song” and Sungji Hong’s “Bell Song”-- on this program! From a musical perspective, I am extremely excited about the contrast of instrumentation and for Julia to shine as a soloist. Furthermore, by opening up the curation process to multiple people, I feel that it enriches the program and allows for a greater sense of agency.
To conclude, From the Cosmos to the Soul: A Celebration of Women’s Music, is one of my favourite musical curations to date. I hope that this program allows space for presence, a sense of connection to all life, and a celebration of several amazing women composers in 20th and 21st century music. For a final fun fact, all of the texts on this program are written by women: Sabrina Peña Young, Phoebe Newman, Svjetlana Bukvich, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Forugh Farrokhzad, Gertrude Stein, and Claire Lind.
I am deeply grateful to Dr. Slater for inviting me to perform, Julia for her collaboration, all of the composers for their generosity, time and feedback, New York Women Composers, Inc. for helping to support this concert, Paul Holmes for his engineering, and Eunbi Kim for her continued mentorship throughout this entire process. If you have any questions about my curation process, please feel free to reach out to me at https://www.rosehegele.com/contact-1.
Bukvich, Svjetlana. “Interior Designs.” YouTube, uploaded by svjetlanamusic, 5 October 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMKKj_Ld0ps
Bynes, Mason. The House. Boston: Mason Bynes Publishing Co. 2019. Print.
Carson, Anne. “The Gender of Sound.” Glass, irony, and God. New York: New Directions Book, 1995. Print.
“New view of the Pillars of Creation — infrared Heic1501b.” ESA/Hubble. Licensed under Creative Commons by 4.0.
Newman, Phoebe. Why Faith Abides. Date Unknown. Print.
Nourbakhsh, Niloufar. Program note about “The Window.” 16 May 2021.
Resonant Bodies Festival. “Kamala Sankaram - Ololyga - Resonant Bodies Festival 2017.” Youtube, uploaded by Resonant Bodies Festival. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K58CjQo6Sgk
Van Vechten, Carl. “Margaret Bonds.” 1956. Library of Congress: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c14532 Accessed 17 May 2021.
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