An Interview with Dr. Rudman…

Photo Caption: Dr. Jessica Rudman with GNHCC Artistic Director Noah Blocker-Glynn at a recent GNHCC rehearsal.

Join us at Battell Chapel on June 8 to hear the world-premiere of Dr. Rudman’s latest work The Beauty You Have Begotten… which will be accompanied by a saxophone quartet…

Recently, GNHCC Marketing Co-Chair Kim Stoner (GNHCC) sat down with Dr. Jessica Rudman (JR) to ask her a few questions on her composition process…

GNHCC: Is GNHCC unusual in performing contemporary choral music in every concert (usually mixed with classical music, early 20th century, etc.)?

JR: Mixing contemporary works with more historical works is fairly common. Choral music (along with band music) is one area where living composers are regularly performed. Getting to hear works from our time by diverse composers is one of the exciting things about attending a choral concert. 

GNHCC: Is GNHCC unusual in commissioning pieces by contemporary composers?

JR: Commissioning a new work is a very special activity and not something that all choirs are able to do, particularly not on a regular basis. It takes a strong commitment on the part of the choir and director, since the group will be learning a work that has never been heard before. Composers can make reference recordings to help the ensemble, but the choir members and director are the ones bringing the music to life for the first time. That takes time, as well as patience and a willingness to trust the composer.

When a group commissions someone, they may have a general idea of what the composer will do, but there’s always an element of surprise in what the resulting music will be. That’s exciting, but can also be a little intimidating. And with most piece (newly commissioned or not), there will be a learning curve where in the early rehearsals it may be hard to heard what the work will eventually sound like. Over time, though, it comes together, and hopefully the choir ends up loving the result!

I appreciate the trust that Noah and the GNHCC have put in me, as well as all of the hard work that has gone into taking this music from the page to the concert hall. Everything was coming together beautifully when I last attended rehearsal, and I am excited to hear the concert next week!

GNHCC: Is there anything you would like to say about how you found and chose the poems to set? (Some of these are pretty hard to find! I tried looking up Sandburg”s “Home” to see if those lines are the whole poem, and I couldn’t find it online!)

JR: My greatest resource for finding Public Domain poems is, a website of the American Academy of Poets. They have a huge amount of beautiful poems on their site and are also very active in sharing those poems via social media and their Poem-A-Day newsletter. All of the poems for this composition came from that site. 

Some of them were texts I had previously saved, which were waiting for the right project to come along. Others were texts I found by poets whom I knew I loved, including Amy Lowell (whose work I’ve set in other pieces). The rest were poems that I discovered when researching possible texts for this project. 

GNHCC: Do you choose them because the poem itself suggests a musical setting (like the “flickering flame” in part I), or do you choose the poem first and then look for ways to set it?

JR: When choosing a poem to set, I think about a few factors: the meaning of the text, the sound of words and their suitability for singing, and the potential for an evocative musical setting. When I read a poem for the first time, I think about all three of those factors simultaneously, and the poem resonates with me on all three levels, I probably will add to my file of possible texts to set. Then, when I have a particular commission, I will start to go through those poems to find ones that might fit. Which factor(s) get weighed most heavily when choosing a poem depends on the specific project. 

For this work, meaning was essential, though the other factors were still important. I spent a long time looking for just the right combination of texts to include. GNHCC’s director, Noah Glynn, had asked for a piece that celebrated the human condition. Trying to find texts that fit that theme without being either too specific (and thus not broadly relatable) or too broad (and thus not have a strong, clear meaning) was a challenge. 

The six poems that made it into the work represent a nuanced view of the complexity of human life. Once I had poems in place whose meaning fit the overall theme of the work, then I focused on how to best enhance the meaning of the words through the musical setting.

GNHCC: What are the unique aspects of combining a chorus and saxophone quartet?

JR: Noah’s suggestion to use that chorus and saxophone quartet was a really wonderful idea. It is a beautiful combination, which is surprisingly under-used in the repertoire. The saxophones provide excellent support to the choir, as they have more sustain than a piano. They also are capable of creating an amazing diversity of colors, sometimes sounding organ-like or other times sounding more like voices. They blend very well and integrate with the choir in a way that allows the text to really come through.