Composer in Residence: Elaine Hagenberg

Posted on Oct 1, 2018 by

On Sunday, October 7, composer Elaine Hagenberg will visit Appleton and the newVoices rehearsal to work with the chorus on her piece, “O Love.” The choir will perform this melodic work in our upcoming concert “Please Stay: Listen. Hope. Care. Prevent Suicide.” Having a composer work with us directly is a true treat and Elaine shares some of her thoughts regarding the collaboration between composer, conductor and singers.

newVoices: What does the composer bring to rehearsal/performance versus the conductor? How is the musical experience enhanced for the ensemble (and ultimately the audience)?

Elaine Hagenberg: Conductors provide wonderful leadership as they take the black and white notes of a page and draw all musicians together to create art. They focus on pitches, rhythms, dynamics, articulations, intonation and balance as they strive to create beautiful phrases–while simultaneously building trust and a beautiful community. Something unique composers can add to the music-making experience is the human element of the music. What is the back story to the piece? What personally inspired this music? What were you experiencing in your life and why did this text resonate with you? Why did you repeat the text in measure 43? What is the significance of B major in measure 72? Singers can ask questions. Composers can offer insights. And often, a deeper and richer understanding of the music come through in performance, directly impacting the listeners as well.

newVoices: How does the composer interact with the conductor and individual singers who all make personal decisions about expressing the emotion of the music?

Elaine Hagenberg: I always enjoy the opportunity to collaborate in rehearsals and concerts with ensembles and it is always rewarding when we share ideas and interpretations. Often times, subtle tempo changes or dynamic changes can yield different effects or emotions, and it’s fun to be flexible and try different ideas together.

newVoices: You are a popular contemporary composer and your work is characterized by beautiful melodies not present in many “contemporary” works. Is that a conscious decision on your part to create melody or is it just your God-given voice?

Elaine Hagenberg: I am very conscious about melody when I’m composing. I think finding inspiring texts is of foremost importance to me, then honoring that text by finding the most natural rhythm possible. The next step is to create a beautiful or interesting line that I would want to sing, and hopefully satisfying for others as well.

newVoices: Why is it important for composers to “get out into the field” and be involved in making music with regional choirs? How does it make your job better/relevant/exciting?

Elaine Hagenberg: I really enjoy the peace and quiet as I work, as well as the freedom to set my own pace. However, composing can feel very isolated at times. Playing my piano and singing one vocal line is never as rewarding as hearing an entire ensemble. My job is even better when I can hear the music live and experience the personal connection music creates. Singing together, breathing together, and the spark in singers’ eyes when that special musical moment happens floods my heart. And mostly I’m filled with gratefulness. I cannot perform my musical ideas on my own, but need conductors and choirs to bring my music to life. I’m grateful for their voices and countless hours of rehearsal, but also their willingness to be vulnerable, share their gifts, and bless others.

Please join us for our season opener concert, “Please Stay: Listen. Hope. Care. Prevent Suicide.” tickets may be purchased online and are available at this link. 

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