May 1, 1996
30th Commissioned Work Premiered
By Jaime Larson
UW-RF News Bureau
The founder of the UW-River Falls commissioned composer program and former UW-RF music professor returned this week to present the world premiere of his new piece "Earth Songs" in honor of the program's 30th year.
The concert, which was held May 2 in Abbott Concert Hall of the Kleinpell Fine Arts building, featured performances by various ensembles of eight of Conrad DeJong's compositions, including the debut of "Earth Songs," which he composed for the UW-RF concert choir.
"Earth Songs" is based on four different poems, each dealing in a different way with the earth. The idea started with the second poem used in the piece. "The whole work began with the second poem because it comes from a collection of poems called 'Driving to New Mexico,' which is what I've been doing year after year," DeJong said.
DeJong and his wife travel to New Mexico every year to find new samples of Navajo weavings for their collection. Through "Earth Songs," he wanted to relay the beauty he's witnessed during his trips to the southwest.
He chose Tom McKeown's "Indian Woman" because of the feeling it shows for the earth, particularly in the last three lines: ". . . teach me grace, long suffering, the wisdom of the earth."
"It's very meaningful to me," DeJong said.
He then searched for other poems that would express different views of the earth. He chose Chief Seattle's "This We Know" and Walt Whitman's "This is What You Shall Do."
The composition ends with a Japanese haiku, which DeJong included in memory of Toru Takemitsu, a composer he admired who died in February.
DeJong started the commissioned composer program 30 years ago so that students could get the chance to work with a composer. This allows the composer to offer students suggestions that will help bring out the intended meaning of the pieces they perform, DeJong said.
After founding the program, DeJong remained in charge for 25 years. He's delighted that it has continued to prosper at UW-RF since his retirement.
"Nothing has pleased me more than that it's continued," DeJong said. He was also immensely satisfied that he was chosen to compose the piece in honor of the program's 30th year.
"It's very sentimental that they have asked me to come back in this slightly different capacity," DeJong said. "I'm honored and humbled by the whole thing."
During his visit to UW-RF, DeJong attended rehearsals for Thursday night's concert, taught music classes and gave a public lecture.
Among the pieces performed Thursday was "Little Suite," a piano solo DeJong wrote for his daughter when she was 8 years old. The concert also featured two pieces that DeJong wrote for UW-RF students. "August in the Pulse of the Year," based on a poem by St. Paul poet Kate Green, was written in 1981 for a singer at UW-RF. DeJong composed "Heliotrope" in 1976 for two UW-RF students as part of his wedding gift to them.
Thursday's concert was sponsored in part by the UW-RF Wyman Concerts and Lectures Committee.