UChicago Composers Share Creative Processes

Shulamit Ran, Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor of Music, Augusta Read Thomas, University Professor of Composition in Music, and Marta Ptaszynska, Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of Music, recently shared what inspires them to create music and their composing processes. Ran, who recently composed a piece inspired by the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts which was performed at the building's launch festival, said “Life informs my music in every possible way, through the people I meet, the sounds I hear, things I see or read, life’s events and passages, its awe and adventure. This feeds into everything I am, and thus everything I compose.”

Ptaszynka and Thomas both commented that ideas for their compositions usually come to them fully-formed, rather than in fragments. “I never start a piece if I don’t know how the piece will end,” Ptaszynska says. “It’s like buying a train ticket without knowing where you’re going.”

Thomas' process echoes this theme of travel. “I usually draw maps—a timeline of the piece, the shapes it’s going to take, its harmonic fields,” she says. “If you’re going to build a huge building or cathedral, you can’t just go to the hardware store and start hammering nails. I actually draft the beginning, middle, and end of absolutely every sound. I want to know, what’s the inner life? Where is it going, why is it going there? How does it relate to what comes next, and why? Gestalt is everything to me.”

All three composers underscored that none of their creativity would be possible without diligent work, which makes the University of Chicago a particularly fruitful setting. “Many people have a talent but don’t develop their craft,” Ptaszynska says. “And talent without craft is nothing.”

Read the full article here.

UChicago Writers Include University in Cast of Characters

Many University of Chicago alumni who go on to publish fiction—such as Philip Roth, AM'55, Saul Bellow, X’39, Andrew Greeley, AM’61, PhD’62, Sara Paretsky, AM’69, MBA’77, PhD’77 , and Georg Mann, AB’35—find the University irresistible as a source of setting, conflict, or in some situations, character. Authors have chosen to use the University as a backdrop for characters stalled on dissertation work, as a site of social or political progress, and often as a comfort and inspiration to characters looking to live, in Philip Roth's words, a life that is "enormous." These "enormous" lives are fraught with a number of failures and successes, but for alumni, current faculty members, and even non-alumni, the University as a character or setting is a captivating concept. For some authors though, the captivation turns to intrigue as Alzina Stone Dale, AM'57, reveals in her 1995 book Mystery Reader's Walking Guide: Chicago, which weaves readers in and out of the campus and the Hyde Park neighborhood to retrace the paths of fictional sleuths.

If you want to brush up on the fictional happenings at the University, consult this article and read the reflections of twenty-one novelists and poets with connections to the University in An Unsentimental Education: Writers and Chicago, by Molly McQuade, AB'81 For those simply hoping to tour the locations that inspired these authors, a literary map of campus can be found here.

MA Program in the Humanities Launches Digital Publication

The Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH) recently launched the first issue of its digital magazine, Colloquium, which aims to showcase critical and creative work from current MAPH students as well as alumni and staff. The first issue focuses on the theme of "Chicago," and features fiction, photography, critical essays, creative non-fiction, video, poetry, and more. Through its digital platform, Colloquium hopes to continue to feature multimedia content such as video, sound, and games, as well as writing. Submissions to Colloquium are accepted on an ongoing basis from contributors with ties to the MAPH program. Students, alums, faculty and preceptors past or present are encouraged to submit. For more information about the MAPH program including admissions, courses, and alumni news, click here.

National Prize for Historic Music Awarded to Alumni-Led Ensemble

Schola Antiqua of Chicago, a professional vocal ensemble dedicated to the performance of music composed before the year 1600, was recently awarded the 2012 Noah Greenberg Award by the American Musicological Society. The Artistic Director of Schola Antiqua, Michael Alan Anderson, earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in the History and Theory of Music in 2008. About the winning project, "Sounding the Neumatized Sequence," he says, “The year 2012 marks the 1100th anniversary of the death of the most important sequence composer, Notker Balbulus of St. Gall, and scholars of the sequence have turned renewed attention to the curious, widespread musical practice of ‘neumatization’ in particular. Early music ensembles however have scarcely kept pace with these latest developments in medieval music scholarship.”

The Noah Greenberg award aims to "stimulate active cooperation between scholars and performers by recognizing and fostering outstanding contributions to historical performing practices." Schola Antiqua served as an Artist in Residence in the Department of Music in 2006-2007, making this the second consecutive year that an artist connected to the University has won this prestigious award. Last year's winner was the New Budapest Orpheum Society, an Ensemble in Residence in the Division of the Humanities, for their project “Representing the Holocaust, Resounding Terezín.”

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