ISU kicks off annual Contemporary Music Festival

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On Wednesday, October 26, the Indiana State University College of Arts and Sciences kicked off the 56th Annual Contemporary Music Festival with performances by the Indiana State University Chorale, ISU trumpet professor Jay Ellsmore, the ISU Percussion Ensemble, and the Indiana State University Wind Orchestra. 

The mission of the Contemporary Music Festival is to “give students a glimpse of the lives of professional composers, performers, critics, and scholars; to promote the work of young American composers; and to generate public interest in modern music.” 

Instead of only observing musicians and composers, students are encouraged to get involved and actively interact with them. Growth is required to keep all forms of art music alive, and the Contemporary Music Festival and performances by these groups encourage this growth.

The Indiana State University Chorale began the program by performing “Joy” from “Songs of Joy and Refuge,” followed by “High Flight” from “Terra Nostra.” Both of these pieces were composed by this year’s featured composer, Dr. Stacy Garrop. Dr. Garrop is a freelance composer and has received numerous awards, including the Arts and Letters Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the Barlow Prize from Brigham Young University. The first of Garrop’s pieces, “Joy” from “Songs of Joy and Refuge,” was commissioned by the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir to celebrate its 30th anniversary. “Joy” is meant to show the happiness that is expressed through the action of singing. Dr. Garrop’s second piece, “High Flight” from “Terra Nostra,” was commissioned by the San Francisco Choral Society as well as the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Chorus. “High Flight” was written to celebrate the milestones in technological achievements made since the Industrial Age. The other pieces performed by the Indiana State University Chorale included “O salutaris hostia” by Márton Levente Horváth and “Alleluia” by Elaine Hagenberg. 

Following the Indiana State University Chorale performance, trumpet instructor Professor Jay Ellsmore performed “Sonata for Trumpet and Piano: II. Adagio” by Adolphus Hailstork. The quiet beginning of this sonata gradually develops and unfolds into a through-composed song before returning to a tranquil close. Following his performance, Professor Ellsmore expressed that students being able to hear such a large variety of music throughout the Contemporary Music Festival gives them the chance to “appreciate compositions that they otherwise would never have heard,” instead of only listening to “classics” over and over again.

The next part of the concert featured the ISU Percussion Ensemble and their performance of “Mudra” by Bob Becker. Mudra combines North Indian music with Western rudimental drumming while featuring a snare drum soloist. 

The Indiana State University Wind Orchestra concluded the concert by performing “Nitro” by Frank Ticheli, “And the grass sings in the meadows” by Travis Cross, “One Life Beautiful” by Julie Giroux, and “Danzon No. 2” by Arturo Marquez. The Wind Orchestra had previously performed “One Life Beautiful” and “Danzon No. 2” at the Band-O-Rama Concert on Thursday, September 29. “Nitro” by Frank Ticheli was commissioned by music director Mallory Thompson for the Northshore Concert Band to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The powerful musical idea for “Nitro” comes from the concept of nitrogen being the most abundant component of the Earth’s atmosphere and ranking as the fifth most abundant element in the universe. Travis Cross’s piece “And the grass sings in the meadows” was commissioned by music director Robert Pouliot for the City of Fairfax Band. Cross got the title of this piece from the final stanza of Spring Carol by poet Robert Louis Stevenson. Dr. Stephen Gage, the interim Director of Bands here at ISU expressed his pride and excitement about the Contemporary Music Festival and the ISU Wind Orchestra’s performance. Dr. Gage explained that he is “thrilled to be a part of the 2022 Indiana State University Contemporary Music Festival” and “having so many ISU music students and faculty involved as performers over the course of three days is a monumental and important component” of the festival.