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January 24, 2014
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine

New Mexico embraces SRU's Melago

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Kathleen Melago, Slippery Rock University assistant professor of music, earned positive feedback at Eastern New Mexico University when she premiered six musical works for woodwinds she co-commissioned.

The concert showcased compositions written for the concert by Stephen Barr, assistant professor of music, and Sean Hamilton, a May SRU music education graduate.

"It was truly thrilling to perform the premiere of these works," said Melago, who performed on flute. "We never know which new works could grow to become standard repertoire someday. Every piece of music that is now famous or standard in our repertoire was once premiered; they also received their very first performance at some point."

Melago and Jennifer Laubenthal, assistant professor of clarinet at Eastern New Mexico University, will repeat the concert March 6 at Westminster College, March 9 at the University of Akron and March 12 at SRU.

"The audience really loved the works and gave numerous comments to Jennifer and me after the concert, raving about the pieces," Melago said. "The audience was primarily comprised of music students and faculty from Eastern New Mexico University, along with some community members."

To commission music means to ask a composer to write a composition for a specific purpose or event, usually in exchange for payment and commitment to publically perform works.

Barr wrote "Evocation for Flute and Bb Clarinet." According to notes Barr provided for the Jan. 15 concert, the word conveys two meanings; one, to bring to the conscious mind, or two, to elicit a response, as in evoking childhood memories.

"The music of this evocation does not attempt to do either in any concrete fashion," Barr said, "yet if while listening to it you are moved to daydream a bit, indulge in some flights of fancy, or commune with the infinite, no one will mind, and we will consider the piece successful in its intent.

Hamilton wrote "Five Thoughts on Vitality" for flute and clarinet.

"The piece deals with the processing of large-scale change, represented by systematic 12-tone compositional techniques, as well as intuitive compositional thoughts," Hamilton said. "Throughout the piece, five main ideas are presented as a means to deal with looking forward, organizing chaos in the present and moving beyond things that once were."

Hamilton graduated from SRU last May and received the Kate Brennan Music Education Scholarship. A percussionist, composer and educator, he is pursing a master's degree in music at the University of South Florida.

Melago and Laubenthal commissioned the music and have collaborated before. They earned their doctorates in music from The Ohio State University as classmates.

"When musicians study the history of those significant pieces in our repertoire, we often note the performer who premiered the work," she said. "It is humbling to think that these fabulous pieces we just performed could become standards - pieces other musicians would regularly choose to perform - and that we were the ones to have the honor of giving the premiere. It really is a great feeling to serve in this part of the musical process."

Commissioning works helps composers do what they do for a living, Melago said. It provides a pledge that the works they created will be performed, which means other people might also hear the work and want to purchase it.

"Some composers compose more as a second job or passion, but others compose for their livelihood," she said. "Regardless, I have never met a composer who did not want to have his or her music performed. Composers are gifted in that they have musical ideas and knowledge of instruments and can put that music into existence for others. It's really a beautiful type of communication."

Melago said the six commissioned composers were asked to write modern music that musicians and non-musicians would enjoy. The concert offers an hour of music.

After writing their pieces, composers emailed the music to Melago and Laubenthal.

"We received the music, printed it, and took it to our practice rooms to decipher it," Melago said. "Then, we came together and put our parts together to make sure they were cohesive."

"We are so humbled that six composers agreed to write for us, and we look forward to bringing their music to audiences in our upcoming performances," Melago said.

Other commissioned pieces that will be presented in March include "Fantasy on Colombian-Andean Folk Rhythms" by German Alberto Parada, a Colombia-based composer who dedicated his piece to Melago and Laubenthal; "Fantasia Dance for Flute and Clarinet" by Benjamin Williams, a music professor at Mississippi College; "Algonquin Visions" by Daniel Perttu, a composer and music composition and theory professor at Westminster College, and "Tamburitza Dances" by Gay Kahkonen, a Pennsylvania flute teacher.

At SRU, Melago supervises music field experience students and teachers music education, woodwinds, guitar and rehearsal techniques. Barr directs three choral ensembles and the SRU Symphonic Wind Ensemble. He is a composer and arranger of concert music for choirs, wind bands and orchestras.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.