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UI School of Music to host concert of music set to poetry

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | FEBRUARY 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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Words will come alive and turn into music as audience members sit in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber on Feb. 19.

David Gompper, the director of the University of Iowa Center for New Music, has brought the language of renowned poet Marvin Bell into the world of music.

UI orchestra students and vocalists will perform six pieces beginning at 2 p.m.; admission is free.

The event will mark the first time a musician has made an extended effort to set Bell's poetry to a musical score.

The collaboration between Gompper and Bell, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a Workshop faculty member for 40 years through 2005, began when the two taught a course called Words and Music at the UI. The class was filled with graduate-student composers and poets who collaborated on their works.

"It was a hoot," Bell said. "I'm always ready for collaboration, and I've also worked with poets, dancers, and photographers."

In addition to this project, he is working with Christopher Merrill, the director of the UI International Writing Program, on a book.

Bell credits the idea for the concert to Gompper, and he is honored to be involved with a project of this caliber.

"When a composer wants to write music or write a song, we need words in order to do that," Gompper said. "So sometimes, we want to work with living poets. The process has been so successful that I've now written 80 minutes of music."

For this concert, the composer set six of Bell's poems to music. Some of the pieces used text from books written by Bell, but others were produced just for this particular concert — for example, the series of poems "The Animals" Bell wrote at Gompper's request.

One piece in particular that Gompper looks forward to is "An Elm We Lost," which will be the finale of the show.

The piece, written in 2002, concerns the elms that were lost on the Pentacrest.

"I used that piece to represent the two towers we lost on 9/11," Gompper said. "There is a lot of musical meaning to the piece."

Michael Schnack, a UI doctoral student in choral conducting and pedagogy, considers "An Elm We Lost" to be very moving.

"The text is fragmented in sections, as if the chorus is trying to formulate the words but are being held back by a great emotional shock," he said. "I look forward to the audience's reaction and also seeing Dr. Gompper conduct his work."

Bell has not heard all of the pieces, so he, too, looks forward to the concert and seeing Gompper conduct.

"The poem on the page and the musical setting are different things," Bell said. "Gompper, as the composer, retains the poetry while he creates something new. He has made my poems bigger."


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