“How are you like your mother? »
Graduate student Cole Depuy, the poet behind “A Turing Test,” pops the question again. And again, tenor Lex Bonner responds with a recitation of haunting childhood images, underscored by raucous cello and eerie piano chords. A gong shakes, waved by composer Leif Haley, as the song comes to a powerful close.
It’s a world where God eats God, Cole, she said. And God eats.
Two days before the April 9 premiere of “Word of Mouth: New Words, Voices and Music,” poets, composers, and singers at Binghamton University honed their musical creations. Co-sponsored by the Material and Visual Worlds Transdisciplinary Area of Excellence, the project is the result of a collaboration between the Department of Music and the Creative Writing Program.
Guided by Director of Creative Writing Tina Chang, Associate Professor of Composition Daniel Thomas Davis, Associate Professor of Voice Thomas Goodheart, and Director of Choral Activities William Culverhouse, undergraduate and graduate poets provided the text. initial, which the student composers transformed into art songs and other compositions. They were later performed by an array of student singers alongside several faculty artists as part of the Binghamton University Art Museum’s Spring 2022 exhibition, “Joy, Play and Resistance.”
The 24 teams of poets, composers and performers proved so successful and ambitious that the launch was split into two back-to-back concerts, each with a standing crowd in the museum’s main gallery.
Junior Alex Walley, a music student majoring in vocal performance, performed “To Regard This Weather with Claim and Wonder” by poet Shannon Hearn and composer Valerie Lasser, which is about reclaiming the natural world. He’s friends with Lasser, a sophomore singer and songwriter who wrote the piece with Walley’s tenor voice in mind — an incredible opportunity for the two, they said.
“I know his voice and his style of music,” said Lasser, who has both composed and performed works at the event.
In one track, “Push” by poet Josh Grosse, Lasser did both, pre-recording six different tracks of herself to create a chorus of angelic voices. The poem draws from Grosse’s own experience during her last semester of college, before returning to childhood memories.
An English major focused on creative writing, Grosse also contributed five haikus that explore the meditative experience that became the basis for Haley’s second show composition, “Meditation.”
Express your deepest thoughts;
the construction of walls is not controlled.
Do not fear your truth.
The ethereal vocals of sopranos Riya Bolander and Rebecca Grabarchuk wrapped around the elder’s enigmatic lyrics, accompanied by the buzz of cello from college artist Zachary Sweet and the cheerful tones of a marimba, played by Haley himself.
A junior majoring in music and psychology, Haley is an accomplished composer with an entire opera under his belt, in addition to being a talented percussionist. While working with his poets – Depuy on “A Turing Test” and Grosse on “Meditation” – he sat down with both to make sure he understood the message behind their work.
“The overall tone of the poetry indicates what the song will sound like,” he explained. “I also consider how the text would best be placed in the context of the song, the words, where they fit into the overall register.”
For their part, poets come to view the work of composers and musicians with renewed respect. This respect went in several directions: Bolander, a second-year vocal performance and psychology student, appreciated the chance to speak with both composers and poets about their vision behind the three pieces she performed, she declared.
“I’ve never done a collaboration before. Poetry is usually so personal and tied to experience,” Grosse said.
It was also a new experience for Depuy. A PhD candidate in the creative writing program, the poems he submitted had darker themes. In “A Turing Test”, the speaker—or in this case, the singer—responds differently to repetitions of the same question; the title refers to a conversational test that can differentiate whether the respondent is a human or a machine. Depuy’s second poem, “We Race in Circles” and set to music by graduate composer Neva Derewetzky, is about self-destructive habits such as violence and drug use.
It’s the eagle that escapes
the forest. It’s lightning
who started the fire.
“I feel like I’m talking to someone in another language. It’s a give and take,” Depuy said of the collaborative process. “I have to trust the musician to respect the poem, but also accept that I’m losing the poem to the song.”
Sometimes that meant compromises. Composer Adrian Finney, a sophomore in music, worked with poet Kiel Gregory on “Stealing from Grandmother,” which is about stealing cigarettes. The poet wanted a heavy metal feel, and Finney did his best to meet him halfway, writing for a single piano played by two people to create compelling metallic sound effects.
Meanwhile, his classmate Alexis Gross, a senior in music, had the opportunity to bring a love poem to life: “You” by student poet Vincent Gialanella, with soprano and cello voices.
I am looking at you
And I can’t even describe
what i really feel
other than that
“This is the first time I will hear what I composed performed by other people,” Gross said during a rehearsal. “It’s even better than I imagined!”