NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Contemporary classical composer Paul Rudy once performed in Krehbiel Auditorium as a Bethel College student. Thirty years later he returns to the stage in a new role.
“I get to write for wonderful young people who sit in the same chairs that I did 30 years ago,” Rudy says. “It’s so gratifying – there are no words for it.”
As Bethel’s composer-in-residence for 2009-10, Rudy – associate professor and director of composition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music – was commissioned to write three original works for Bethel’s music department. His compositions will premier at the Milford E. Greer Festival Concert Sunday, April 11, at 4 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium of the Fine Arts Center. Admission is free and open to the public.
The program includes the commissioned pieces “Peacefully,” for the Bethel College Concert Choir; “Event Horizon,” for the Bethel College Wind Ensemble; and “Postcard Prairie,” for Bethel music department faculty.
The text for “Peacefully” stems from Rudy’s experience with the Mennonite peace tradition.
“Since I was born and raised Mennonite – my dad [Carl Rudy] was a preacher – I decided to work with a text that had a peace theme,” he says. “I had been reading theTao Te Ching and I found passages that spoke to the idea of being at peace and being a peacemaker. I wrote my own text inspired by the words.”
The Concert Choir itself influenced the music of “Peacefully.” “[Paul] had the opportunity to hear the choir perform and was quite taken with the Eric Whitacre piece the choir sang, ‘I thank You God for most this amazing day,’” explains William Eash, professor of music and Concert Choir director.
“Peacefully” uses a variety of aural elements including spoken and improvised conversation. The close harmonies and broad dynamic range make it a challenging and interesting piece, Eash continues.
These avant-garde techniques come from a unique purpose. “His intent … was really to recreate elements of … a natural environment. You’ll hear elements of storms and his intent to depict sunshine, coupled with the text ‘Speak Peacefully’ by Lao Tzu,” says Eash.
Rudy heard the choir perform “Peacefully” last October in order to get feedback and make any changes. “They brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautiful,” Rudy says. “They really put themselves into it. It was a [very] touching experience. I think at the concert I might need a box of Kleenex.
“That collaboration made it a much better piece,” he adds. “That’s the great thing about working with the people you’re composing for.”
“Event Horizon,” the Wind Ensemble piece, is perhaps even less traditional, with its point of departure the overtone series, Rudy says.
“At a couple points, you get the atomic view of sound. That includes low sounds with corresponding high sounds that you don’t normally perceive consciously. It’s like a sonic horizon unfolds before your ears.
“I have trouble talking about it, but the music is very clear,” he adds.
Timothy Shade, who directs the Wind Ensemble, was in conversation with Rudy about the piece from the beginning. Shade is particularly taken by its percussive and unique instrumentation, he says.
“[Paul’s] music has an interesting voice,” Shade says. “It’s not a traditional sound. He has his sound palette and writes so that [the band fits] into those sounds. For example, we’re emulating cymbals crashing, with the winds.”
Shade was the impetus for appointing Rudy composer-in-residence and believes strongly in the partnership.
“So often … today, we’re playing the music of composers that are no longer alive,” says Shade. “We can’t ask these composers questions about their intentions.
“This is something I personally believe in, trying to commission music by living composers. As a proponent of wind music, I think it’s great personally. It’s great for Bethel as well. Our name will go on a score forever.”
Rudy wrote the third new piece, “Postcard Prairie,” for soprano, tenor saxophone, piano and trombone to suit the Bethel music faculty (Soyoun Chun, James Pisano, Karen Bauman Schlabaugh and Shade). The text of the piece comes from the poem “Gazetteer” by Nathan Bartel, assistant professor of English.
“I’ve known Nathan since he was three years old. It’s really been fun watching him blossom as an absolutely wonderful poet,” says Rudy.
The April 11 concert will feature, in addition to the new pieces, the Bethel Jazz Combo playing some of Rudy’s older work and Rudy himself performing a piece from his series 2012 Stories.
Rudy will also give two convocation lectures: Friday, April 9, and Monday, April 12, on “The Universe in Oscillation: Music for a Higher Purpose” and “Surfing the Event Horizon on the Magic Carpet of Sound,” respectively. Both take place at 11 a.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium.
In the first lecture, “I’m going to talk about what’s important to me about music,” Rudy says. “And I can’t talk about what’s important in music without talking about what’s important in life. For me, the two are inseparable.” The second lecture is an introduction to Rudy’s journey, which has not been very direct, he says.
He is thankful for a chance to work collaboratively with Bethel between disciplines and generations. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to come back around and contribute something,” says Rudy, who graduated from Bethel in 1984 with a degree in music and trumpet performance.
Major funding for Rudy’s composer residency at Bethel comes from the Greer Fine Arts Endowment. The late Dr. Robert C. Goering, a native of Moundridge and a 1948 Bethel graduate, and his wife Amparo Goering, Wichita, initiated the endowment at Bethel in 1979 in memory of Milford E. Greer, Jr., a close friend of the Goerings. Greer was interested in literature and music and excelled as an artist. He died in an auto accident in 1972 at age 45. The Greer Endowment helps bring visiting artists and scholars in the areas of music, visual arts or theater to the Bethel campus.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges profiled in Colleges of Distinction 2009-10. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.