The Signal

Serving the College since 1885

Monday May 20th

Wind Ensemble, Choirs named semi-finalists for The American Prize Ernst Bacon Award

<p>(Photo courtesy of Aaron Watson)</p>

(Photo courtesy of Aaron Watson)

By Tristan Weisenbach
Arts & Entertainment Editor

The College’s Wind Ensemble and Choirs have been recognized as semi-finalists for The American Prize Ernst Bacon Award for their debut performance of “Weather” in the fall of 2021.

The memorial award, which was created in 2016, recognizes soloists and ensembles across the world who put on the best performances of American music, according to the foundation’s website.

The College’s world premiere performance was held in Mildred & Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall and was conducted by Dr. Eric Laprade, director of bands and assistant professor of music at the College. The premiere was attended by hundreds in the audience, including Dr. Rollo Dilworth, the composer of the arrangement. 

“The debut performance was spectacular,” Dilworth said. “Every musician performed the piece with precision and passion. I could not have asked for anything better.”

Dilworth, who serves as the vice dean and professor of choral music education at Temple University, composed “Weather” based on a poem of the same name commissioned by The New York Times and written by Claudia Rankine.

Rankine’s poem touches on many subjects, including racism, social justice and the Covid-19 pandemic. She wrote the poem in 2020, at the height of both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests that flooded many cities across the country. Her poem was featured on the cover of the June 21, 2020 edition of The New York Times’ Book Review.

“I personally connected with the themes about the pandemic, being a high school senior during the pandemic it really took over my life,” said Gianna Marrano, a junior music education major who performed in the choir during both nights of the premiere. “The pandemic being made a political issue is also addressed in the piece, and I was really able to resonate with that.”

At the start of the October concert, the poem was displayed on stage while an audio recording of Rankine reading it was played. The end of the poem immediately transitioned into the start of the performance.

“I think we were all really proud of the performance we put on,” Marrano said. “The music department had been going through a really tough month so being able to put on such a powerful performance and make music together for the first time since the pandemic was just a feeling I can't really describe.”

Hannah Stratton, a senior vocal music education major who also performed in the choir, described the debut performance as “nothing less than transformative.” However, despite the standing ovations that were received after both concerts, she recalls that some of her peers mentioned their parents were “confused” or even “angry” at the nature of the song.

“Given the political state of our world, it does not surprise me that there were folks in the audience who didn't like our flagrant metaphorical flipping off of police officers or our loud and proud declaration that Black Lives Matter,” she said.

Stratton says that she feels lucky to have a family that is filled with so much love and support for both her and the topics portrayed in “Weather,” but that it was still “unsettling” to her knowing that the themes of the song were received negatively by some. 

Dilworth’s composition of “Weather” was commissioned by the College in collaboration with the Artivism Project. Led by the Chair of the Department of Music Dr. Colleen Sears, the project consists of both students and faculty and is focused on social justice issues through curriculum in the arts.

“The students were very inquisitive about the development of the work and were very eager to produce a compelling performance,” Dilworth said. “It was also exciting to work with Dr. Sears to learn how TCNJ planned to create pathways for students to connect this piece to both their artistry and their humanity.”

Dilworth explained that it took him seven months to finish composing “Weather,” noting that the most challenging part was finding the best way to connect each of the sections within the piece. 

“I spent many hours reading the poem over and over again until the formal structure of the composition began to unfold,” he said.

“Weather” has now been published by the Hal Leonard Corporation. According to Dilworth, there have been multiple performances of the piece across the country since the world premiere at the College, with many more on the way.

“I look forward to attending as many of those performances as possible,” he said.

Stratton said the memories of the debut performance at the College will always stick with her. She praised the hard work of both Dilworth, who she described as a “brilliant composer,” and the ensembles for putting on such a spectacular show.

“The energy on stage and in the concert hall was truly palpable within the choir, orchestra, and audience members,” Stratton said. “That performance will definitely be one that I will never forget.”


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