MYS Oregon to Iberia

Conversations and connections: Darrell Grant with Resonance Ensemble, Andrea Reinkemeyer with In Mulieribus

The famed jazz pianist partnered with the choral ensemble and Portland poet/activist A. Mimi Sei to create “From the Book of Sankofa”; the former Linfield Music Department Chair returns to Oregon for the live premiere of her “Cycles of Eternity,” recorded in 2019.

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Darrell Grant. Photo by Rachel Hadiashar, courtesy of Resonance Ensemble.
Darrell Grant. Photo by Rachel Hadiashar, courtesy of Resonance Ensemble.

“I am constantly learning – there is no road map,” said Resonance Ensemble Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon in recent phone conversation with Oregon ArtsWatch. There might not be a GPS setting for what FitzGibbon and Resonance Ensemble do but they find pathways that lead to conversation and connections and great choral music. 

Of course, there must be a point of departure. On Resonance’s upcoming concert on March 17 that point is Amendment: Righting Our Wrongs, an extended work by Melissa Dunphy. This is a choral piece that “juxtaposes voices of the founding fathers with those of minoritized women fighting for universal voting rights, including Ida B. Wells and Stacy Abrams” (Resonance website). “It is a work,” said FitzGibbon, Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Lewis and Clark College, “that is aligned with Resonance’s mission.” 

The next steps in the journey were conversations with partners and friends like Portland poet and activist and Resonance Board member A. Mimi Sei. Sei has partnered with Resonance in other projects including, in 2023, the creation of Shout Out which Portland composer Kenji Bunch set to her text. Read and hear Sei talk about that project here

The pathway created by FitzGibbon’s conversation with Sei led directly to acclaimed Portland pianist and composer Darrell Grant. And it was the wisdom of a bird that led to Grant and Sei’s new composition, From the Book of Sankofa.

Quoted on Resonance’s webpage, Sei recalled “Darrell and I were inspired by the idea of Sankofa, a Twi word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The word literally means ‘Go back and get it.’ I thought about the necessity of learning from memories of the past and rising, with resilience and perseverance, into the future.” In pictorial representation Sankofa is a bird, egg in mouth, face turned backward, but feet planted forward.

Sankofa rendering by Daryl Browne.
Sankofa rendering by Daryl Browne.

Grant and Sei were featured artists on All Classical’s “Thursdays at 3” broadcast of February 29 (available to you here until March 7), and spoke of articulating the allure of the Sankofa ideology. Their starting point, a set of words representing the essential elements of Sankofa, became poetry and music. Darrell Grant on piano and Mimi Sei in spoken word join Resonance Ensemble and cellist Nancy Ives in this world premiere.

As the Sankofa partnership progressed, FitzGibbon was still in conversation about the arc of the program. She describes what happened next as a one of those fateful moments, where a colleague said something like “hey, there’s someone you should meet.” That someone was Taylor Stewart and the community partner on this concert is the Oregon Remembrance Project. Resonance recently interviewed Stewart about the beginnings and mission of the groundbreaking Project. Read that interview here.

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“Taylor Stewart is amazing,” wrote in FitzGibbon in recent email to OAW. “He is a dynamic speaker who is creating lasting change in the communities around Oregon through memorials that acknowledge past discriminatory practices while pledging new ways of being. For example so-called ‘sundown towns’ become ‘sunrise communities’.” Watch Stewart’s eye-opening TEDxPortland presentation “How do you reconcile a lynching?” here:

Speaking our wrongs, acknowledging our wrongs, learning from our wrongs–”Righting our Wrongs.”

The concert format models truly participative conversation. Presentations on the ongoing work of the Oregon Remembrance Project are embedded in the choral program with Stewart speaking between works and in the middle of Melissa Dunphy’s Amendment: Righting Our Wrongs in which Ives also performs. 

These Resonance artists and performing partners are gracing our communities with their words, their music and advocacy for creating a world that is kind and equally available to everyone. 

While that might sound a bit naïve and elementary, isn’t that the message of the concert? It is the message of Langston Hughes’ “I Dream a World” which you will hear set for choir by Rosephayne Powell, and Joel Thompson’s Hold Fast to Dreams set to another Hughes dream-related text. Thompson also caresses Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” in his choral work The Caged Bird Sings for Freedom for choir, piano and clarinet. Barbara Heilmair performs the standout clarinet solos in the beautiful work. Listen to that work here:

Joel Thompson, hmm? Isn’t there another Joel Thompson piece coming up in Portland? You bet. Portland Opera’s three-show run of The Snowy Day begins March 16. Wonderful coincidence. Will we meet Thompson at the concert? Hmm?

You will see Resonance singer and Associate Conductor Shohei Kobayashi on the podium for the Thompson works. Kobayashi is Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Reed College. FitzGibbon and Kobayashi began their artistic dialogue as mentor and student at Lewis and Clark College and FitzGibbon recently spoke with restrained admiration about her Resonance podium partner. Restrained? Ha! She bubbled over with pride and pleasure that the Lewis and Clark graduate is now a colleague and valued member of the Portland musical community. Kobayashi will conduct the world premiere of From the Book of Sankofa.

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Kobayashi recalled, in recent email to OAW, hearing Grant’s Sanctuaries in 2021 and “being taken with his sense for drama and form, melodic line, harmony, and making music in community. As I get to know From the Book of Sankofa, I am struck again by Grant’s sonic vision — realized this time with an up-to-eight-part vocal ensemble, cello, and piano — and his approach to collaborating with and setting the poetry of local writer A. Mimi Sei.” Kobayashi cited one moment in particular: “Listen out for the first extended speaker moment and the lilting and mysterious piano writing that sets the scene. This moment totally captured me the first time I played through it.” 

Resonance is so doggone good at connections. The Ensemble is bringing “Sweet Honey in the Rock” to the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts on April 5 and The Armory in April 6. Also this Spring, the Ensemble has formed a connection that will make an educational impact. FitzGibbon, Resonance musicians and singer/composer Cecille Elliott are the Spring 2024 guest mentors for the Linfield University Lacroute Composer Readings and Chamber Music Mentorship Program. This program originated under former Linfield Music Department Chair Andrea Reinkemeyer in 2019. Keep that name in mind; you are going to read more about that composer and Oregon native below. And stayed tuned for more Oregon Arts Watch coverage of this Resonance/Linfield educational initiative in the months ahead. It will be a wonderful finale for Resonance’s 15th Anniversary season.

FitzGibbon got a bit philosophical about Resonance‘s “Revolution 15 season and on the seasons ahead. “I have the sense that we are in the process of becoming who we were meant to be.” Does she mean Resonance or does she mean the mean the global ‘we’–us? Well, everyone is welcome on the journey. 

Resonance Ensemble performs Amendment: Righting Our Wrongs on Sunday, March 17, 2 pm at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre. Tickets are available here

In Mulieribus and Andrea Reinkemeyer come full “Cycle”

Andrea Reinkemeyer is coming home next week. She will visit family still living in her Oregon home town of Troutdale. And she’ll be very busy with her mini-residency with In Mulieribus singers and preparing for her pre-concert talks for their March 16 and 17 performance. But she is most excited about the long-awaited live premiere of her 2019 choral work, Cycles of Eternity.

It must seem like an eternity since Artistic Director Anna Song and the women of In Mulieribus first sang one-third of Reinkemeyer’s Cycles of Eternity triptych. The last movement, “Life”, was commissioned and performed by In Mulieribus in celebration of their 10th Season in 2017. If you heard it you certainly remember it – the close harmonies being sung by the choir while the soloist soars overhead; dissonant tones so perfectly in tuned, so aligned with the overtones of nature – you hear it and feel it in every cell of your body. Listen to “Life” here. The soaring soprano in that clip, and in this concert, is Arwen Myers. 

Reinkemeyer wrote two more movements – “Aspiration” and “Limitation” – to precede “Life”. IM recorded the complete triptych, and other contemporary choral works, and released the beautiful album in May of 2019, intending to perform the live premiere of Cycles later. But what they ‘aspired’ to do came up against the ‘limitations’ of the pandemic. And Reinkemeyer’s live premiere has been waiting until now. 

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Back in 2017 Reinkemeyer and Song were colleagues at Linfield. You recall from the above Resonance preview that Reinkemeyer was Music Department Chair when the Lacroute Composer Readings and Chamber Music Mentorship Program began. She is now Director of Composition and Associate Professor at George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia) but maintains a personal connection to Linfield – the current Music Department Chair at Linfield University, who now oversees the Lacroute Program, is her longtime friend William Campbell (see CONNECTIONS below). The two composer/educators became friends as they pursued their undergraduate degrees at University of Oregon. Song is now Director of Choral Activities at Willamette University in Salem.

Does Song recall the first conversations that led to the creation of Cycles? “Yes!” she responded to OAW. “She (Reinkemeyer) had just been commissioned to compose something for the Linfield concert choir, and after that collaboration and hearing more of her music, I was eager to have her compositional voice create something for IM’s 10th anniversary so we started talking and looking at texts.”

That collegial connection led Reinkemeyer to the poetry of Henrietta Cordelia Ray. In recent phone conversation with OAW the composer said that for the commission she was looking for something with a spiritual resonance, written by a woman and someone of an earlier time. She found all of that in Ray’s poetry. And a musical quality, evident in just these few lines from Ray’s “Cycles of Eternity”:

We climb the slopes of life with throbbing heart,

And eager pulse, like children toward a star.

(“Aspiration”)

and

Life! Ay, what is it? E’en a moment spun

From cycles of eternity.

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(“Life”)

As to the second movement – “Limitations”? “I took limitations as a challenge,” remarked Reinkemeyer. Sounds like fightin’ words from a composer who stretches compositional boundaries, embracing 21st century techniques alongside non-unison chanted texts and droning. And whose vocal writing is world-class, according to soloist Myers.

“It’s always an honor to have a piece written with your voice in mind,” said Myers in an email to conductor Song. “Andrea’s writing is incredibly atmospheric, and the solo line feels to me like it bursts out of the ether.”

L to R: Arwen Myers, Andrea Reinkemeyer and Anna Song. Photo courtesy of Andrea Reinkemeyer.
L to R: Arwen Myers, Andrea Reinkemeyer and Anna Song. Photo courtesy of Andrea Reinkemeyer.

Song balances the Cycles triptych with three selections from The Dawning Light by contemporary composer Carson Cooman (organists might recognize his name for his many recordings and premieres of contemporary organ music) and Joanne Metcalf’s Shining Light. Portland composer Craig Kingsbury’s Canciones de las siete doncellas (Songs of the seven maidens) and Estonian Pärt Uusberg’s Muusika further promote contemporary choral works. 

In Mulieribus honors the late composer Ivan Moody with a performance of his ethereal O quam mirabilis est (Oh, how miraculous) which you can listen to here.

Then step back a handful of decades to the Kodály Esti Dal (Evening Song) and seven centuries to Machaut’s Ma fin est mon commencement (My end is my beginning).

Reinkemeyer’s Cycles of Eternity sets the tone for the concert – a conversation of the new and the old, the ethereal and earthly, poetry that sings, with varied textures and techniques. Welcome home Andrea Reinkemeyer and congratulations on one life cycle now complete. But perhaps that end is a new beginning.

Cycles of Eternity is performed on Saturday, March 16, 7:30 pm and Sunday, March 17, 4:00 pm, both concerts at the Madeleine Parish, Portland. Tickets are available here. Tune in to All Classical’s “Thursdays at 3” broadcast on March 7 to hear more about this In Mulieribus concert.

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CONNECTIONS

Composer William Campbell is the new Linfield University Music Department Chair. He is thrilled that Resonance is the first choral ensemble invited to participate in the Lacroute Composer Readings and Chamber Music Mentorship Program because, he said in recent conversation, “I believe in connection.” You can connect with Campbell this coming week when he presents a debut concert of his own music at Linfield. Meet Campbell and get a sneak preview of his compositions here.

William Campbell performs “Together We Rise” on Friday, March 15 at Linfield College Marshall Theatre in Ford Hall. 7 pm. Admission is free but reserve your seat here.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Daryl Browne is a music educator, alto, flutist and writer who lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

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