Local Composers' Group garners National Attention04.24.2006
By Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke
The Greater Tri-Cities Area Composers' Consortium (GTCACC) has garnered national attention for the second time in two years. In 2004, after sharing the stage with local visual artists in a program entitled "Artistic Reflections" the GTCACC was rewarded with a write-up on the front page of the May/June issue of Sounding Board, the official communique for the American Composers' Forum. The Consortium recently presented another program, "A Wedding for the Arts," that was unique enough to warrant the front page in the same national magazine. The feature article, complete with photography by Eric McCarty and a listing of all the music premiered, will be in the May/June 2006 issue of the Sounding Board. It's a well-deserved showcase for our artistically rich region.
Was it a concert or a wedding? Well, it was very definitely a real wedding; but the venue was the historic Paramount Center for the Arts, it was billed as "A Wedding for the Arts" and it was a ticketed concert for all but invited wedding guests (proceeds for the Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy).
Writing music for a real wedding rather than just for demo tapes at a trade show booth was Charlotte Sutherland's extension of the Consortium's idea to create an assortment of new wedding music. She even found the perfect couple for the occasion. Carrie Clark and Bobby Beck met while working for the historic Barter Theatre (the State Theatre of Virginia) and were thrilled to have their wedding also be "A Wedding for the Arts." Eighteen original wedding pieces were performed; ten of these were premieres, including a string quartet processional, a trumpet and organ recessional, a setting of Song of Solomon 8:6 for voice and string quartet, two new settings of "The Lord's Prayer" — one for piano and voice, the other for soprano, tenor and harp (one was toward the beginning of the prelude, the other IN the ceremony) — a congregational wedding hymn and flute, violin, piano and vocal incidental music for the wedding prelude. The entire "Wedding for the Arts" was sponsored by Charlotte Sutherland of Joy & Company Weddings in Abingdon, Va. You can listen to excerpts of the music by going to www.joyandcompany.com and clicking on "special events".
THE MAGAZINE ARTICLE
A Wedding for the Arts
by Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke
Was it a concert or a wedding?
Well, it was definitely a real wedding, with an actual bride and groom ? but how many weddings sell tickets to the event, or draw an audience who might not be friends and relatives of the couple getting married? And how many weddings are simultaneously a celebration in an historic theater, a music education fundraiser, and a wedding planner's public demonstration of her spin on the latest wedding fashions and style?
Whatever it was, it was billed as "A Wedding for the Arts," and on top of everything else was the Greater Tri-Cities Area Composers' Consortium's way of showcasing a new collection of wedding music, many specially composed for the occasion.
All this began at a meeting of the Consortium, a group that includes composers from three neighboring cities: Bristol, Va./Tenn.; Johnson City, Tenn.; and Kingsport, Tenn. Three members of the Consortium are also ACF members Ann Holler, John D. Nugent, and myself. We were meeting to discuss our next group project. Previous group endeavors had included sharing the stage with local visual local artists in 2004 [Editor's note: see the May/June, 2004, issue of Sounding Board], and the production of a book of pedagogical pieces for the Appalachian Music Teachers' Association in 2005. Both proved to be great group projects, but what should we do next?
Conversation drifted to a recent wedding and the apparent dearth of interesting new wedding music. We all agreed that Richard Wagner's familiar "dum, dum-de-dum" Wedding March from "Lohengrin" had been overused to the point of becoming a tiresome clich?. How about composing some fresh, new music for weddings ourselves?
Several Consortium members are performers as well as composers, and are frequently asked to play for weddings. They had three quite specific requirements for what they considered "useable" wedding music: First, it should be celebratory and joyful, optimistic about love and marriage. Second, it should be simple enough for most performers and not require elaborate musical forces that might prove disruptive to the flow of the ceremony itself — or vice versa- and be written in a style accessible enough for even non-musical wedding guests to appreciate. Finally, processionals and recessionals should include easily-omitted or repeatable sections, allowing these entrance and exit pieces to be tailored to fit the size of each wedding's venue.
The consensus was that all this was not as easy as it might seem. Try composing within these parameters yourself sometime ? all the restrictions add up to quite a challenge. "The really big challenge for processional and recessional music is creating repeatable sections while avoiding the tendency of the music to go on and on with no resolution," explained Ann Holler about her trumpet and organ recessional. Even so, we thought we'd tackle it as a group project, and try to create a variety of pieces suitable for use during an actual ceremony.
Next we needed a venue to showcase our new collection of wedding music. We contacted Charlotte Sutherland, a wedding and event planner from Abingdon, Virginia, who sponsors an annual wedding trade show. Our original idea was a booth at her trade show, with prerecorded samples of the new works that people could audition, or perhaps even live performances of the pieces. Charlotte, it turned out, had an even more ambitious idea.
"When I was approached by the Greater Tri-Cities Area Composers Consortium to provide a platform for their new wedding music," recalled Sutherland, "I immediately consented. I saw this as a great opportunity to showcase not only my own work and theirs, but also demonstrate how all this could be done within the bounds of traditional wedding etiquette and good taste. I invited my wedding music consultant, Dr. Kellie Brown, (Milligan College, Tenn.) to join me as we met with the composers. I suggested they premiere their new works at an actual wedding ceremony ? and just happened to have the perfect couple for the occasion.
"Carrie Clark and Bobby Beck met more than five years ago while working at the state theatre of Virginia, The Barter Theatre in Abingdon," explained Sutherland. "They shared a love for this region's music and arts, and agreed it was a wonderful idea. Their friends and family would be their guests, of course, but the community at large would be invited to attend the ceremony as well, as a ticketed, concert event."
As an additional incentive for the community at large, Sutherland suggested the wedding take place at a historic regional venue, the Paramount Center for the Arts, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary with special events throughout the year. Even better, we decided that proceeds from ticket sales would be donated to a local music organization: the Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy. The Academy is a leading choral organization in this region, and one of their choirs had even participated an ACF Continental Harmony project back in 2000. The Academy is expanding its activities to include lower elementary-school "feeder" choirs in the Tri-Cities area, and the donated funds would be very welcome.
So suddenly the Consortium composers were writing wedding music for a real bride and groom, and our modest trade show booth was "super-sized" into a community celebration and music education fundraiser. With a program of brand new works, a historic performance venue, and a music education cause to support, we could honestly bill the event ? and did ? as 'A Wedding for the Arts.' "
While sketching out plans for the music, Charlotte Sutherland suggested we should include a new setting for "The Lord's Prayer". Although three of our Consortium members had previously written settings, all three had been performed. Sutherland remained firm: she wanted a new one at this "Wedding for the Arts." At first it seemed that none of us would have the time to come up with a brand-new setting, and so the idea was discreetly tabled. But as luck would have it, not one, but TWO composers, each acting on their own initiative, produced new settings of "The Lord's Prayer" in time for the wedding: one for voice and piano, the other for voices and harp. Rather than choose between them, Sutherland and Brown decided to present one "Lord's Prayer" toward the beginning of the prelude, and the other during the ceremony itself.
Kellie Brown acted as our composer-performer coordinator, setting deadlines for score completions and arranging sessions with the performers. She wisely recommended a full music-only rehearsal two weeks before the wedding rehearsal proper. Even with the advantage of this extra rehearsal ? complicated by snow, freezing rain, performer illnesses, and family medical emergencies ? the actual wedding rehearsal, complicated enough in normal circumstances, was a "surreal" experience with all the additional aspects involved in this event, according to one bemused member of the bridal party.
To everyone's relief and delight, "A Wedding for the Arts" came off as planned on February 26, 2006, with a musical program that premiered a string quartet processional, a trumpet and organ recessional, a setting of "Song of Solomon 8:6" for voice and string quartet, a congregational wedding hymn, the previously mentioned two settings of "The Lord's Prayer" and various flute, strings, piano, and vocal incidental music. The rest of the program was rounded out with original, but "second performance" works by members of our group.
With so much music involved, we had to consider the "applause factor" in our planning. To ensure that the bride and groom remained the primary focus of their own wedding, we decided to eliminate any bows for composers and performers.
Despite its "surreal" complexity, both the wedding party and paying "concert" audience seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, as did the participating composers. Listing all the individuals and groups that benefited from "our" wedding, composer Beth P. McCoy concluded: "It was a win, win, win proposition." "That's the first time I've been really happy after a performance," commented John D. Nugent, who wrote the "Song of Solomon" setting. As for myself, all my tailoring to produce a modular processional was worth it when that last bridesmaid arrived at the stage exactly with the last chord!
We'd be remiss not to include some words about Charlotte Sutherland's contribution to the visual aspects of the event:
"Custom-designed invitations addressed in hand-lettered calligraphy set the stage for such an extraordinary wedding," said Sutherland. "As a designer, I worked to create a 1930s Hollywood look in honor of the Paramount Center's 75th birthday. The bride wore an ESA Makino ecru silk taffeta gown. Hand-crafted jewelry, hand-tied bouquets with fine silk ribbon, and the talents of a renowned glove-maker provided the finishing touches."
And speaking of inclusions, even poor old Richard Wagner and his "Lohengrin" wedding march were invited ? but in a very subtle way: there was one "dum, dum-de-dum" quote in the string quartet processional, hidden in the viola's line.
Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke is composer, church musician and teacher in Blountville, Tennessee, who has written many choral and instrumental works. Blountville is one of the many small communities that comprise the Greater Tri-Cities Area.
Editor's note: For a complete listing of all the pieces, composers, and performers involved in "A Wedding for the Arts," and to listen to excerpts of the music, go to www.joyandcompany.com and click on "special events." For more information on the Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy, (previously known as the East Tennessee Children's Choir and the Highlands Youth Ensemble) visit www.meccacademy.org. The wedding photos were taken by Eric McCarty, whose work can be further sampled at www.thelightphotography.com