Blog: Protecting Your Childhood

10/18/11 - Protecting Your Childhood

At the beginning of October I attended a very special concert at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC. The weekend honored local composer Margaret Vardell Sandresky on the occasion of her 90th birthday, beginning with a conference on Saturday afternoon followed by a dinner and then a concert of her works that evening. The college also held a composition contest and my piece Songs of Enchantment and Wonder was lucky enough to win. Julia and I drove down and stayed on campus in the former college president's home:

Meeting Mrs. Sandresky was an absolute pleasure - she was very humble and down to earth, not to mention absolutely hilarious. We talked for a bit about writing piano trios (something I want to do and she just completed her third, premiered on the concert). I had not heard any of her music before and really did not know what to expect; in the composing business these days styles are incredibly diverse. Either it would be extremely harsh, dissonant music or the banal tonal dabblings of an amateur composer. What I heard that evening was neither: Margaret Sandresky is no amateur. Rather, she is the real deal Holyfield, as they say. Each piece was well-crafted and the night was a pleasant mixture of styles. Sometimes a concert entirely devoted to a single composer is tedious, especially when all of their "tricks" (aka their compositional voice) begin to repeat themselves. Thankfully the diversity presented on this concert prevented that from ever happening. If you have not heard any of her music, please look her up - you will not be disappointed!

Although this was not my night as the esteemed contest winner, I would like to take a minute to talk about my piece. This being a website called "Joseph Eidson dot com" you will, no doubt, permit me the luxury. This piece frightens me a bit. It was the first piece I finished after my DMA without the safety net of lessons with Jim Barnes to catch any mistakes:

Are you SURE you want to do that?
Hmmm... is this a wrong note?
WHY is the singer resting here?
WHY is the singer singing here?
You want to repeat these chords HOW MANY TIMES?

And so on... This was also the first piece written away from my colleagues at Kansas. The other graduate composers and I had a great working relationship and there really was not a sense of rivalry between any of us. Still, I am not sure I would have shown this piece to them in our GTA office - I mean, just look at that lame C major accompaniment in the first movement! Surely I meant to add 9 other notes to those chords, right? Suffice it to say I was uncertain as to how the piece would go over on the concert. Thankfully my fears were alleviated as it seemed to be a crowd-pleaser if the post-concert comments were any indication. Here was my favorite review of the evening:

It was like you have known her voice all your life!

Cristy sang beautifully and Barbara was exceptional on the piano. I am blessed to have enthusiastic performers who make me sound like a million bucks. Here are pictures with Cristy (L) and Barbara (R):

The title of the blog comes from what happened several times after the performance. The Stevenson poems for the cycle come from his collection A Child's Garden of Verse, which are very popular children's poems. I did not realize their continued popularity until I had already selected the texts - this turned out to be a good thing as it might have caused some SERIOUS "paralysis by analysis" were I to consider the implications. A few people started out their post-concert greetings to me by reciting their favorite poem in the collection! At first it took me by surprise - was this some sort of strange North Carolina ritual? - until I realized they were quoting poems I had not chosen for the cycle. The consensus was that I had done their childhood memories justice in my settings and, were I to ever set more, might I consider including their favorite verse?

So, in summary, we heartily enjoyed our time at Salem College. A big "thank you" to Amy Orser and Barbara Lister-Sink for putting the event together, and also to Margaret Vardell Sandresky for her fine music. I am glad not to have destroyed anyone's childhood with my setting of the Stevenson poems, and yes, I AM considering setting a few more in a companion piece. In closing, here are a couple of additional pictures from the weekend taken in Old Salem: