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Meet the 2002 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year. (Composer Commissioning).

 To make a prairie it takes a clover
 and one bee,--
 One clover, and a bee,
 And revery.
 The revery alone will do
 If bees are few.

 --Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Timothy Hoekman used these lines from the Emily Dickinson poem as the first song in his new song cycle, To Make a Prairie, earning his designation as the 2002 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year. The song cycle consists of four Emily Dickinson texts and was performed at the MTNA National Conference in Salt Lake City by the composer at the piano and his wife, Carla Connors, soprano.

I talked with Hoekman about his piece and his career. He has been on the faculty at Florida State University since 1984, where he is professor of vocal coaching and accompanying. He has composed extensively for voice. Hoekman's compositions include four sets of songs published by Recital Publications: Seven Houseman Songs, American Lyrics, The Nash Menagerie and Bless This New Marriage: Three Wedding Songs. He also has composed a one-act opera titled Princess Gray Goose; Margarets: Two Songs for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano and Piano; Then Swims Up the Great Round Moon (a song cycle for vocal quartet and piano) and Harlem Night Songs for SATB chorus.

Hoekman holds a bachelor of arts degree from Calvin College, a master of music degree from Peabody Conservatory of Music and a doctoral degree in piano performance from the University of Michigan. He started composing in graduate school in 1979, initially concentrating on solo songs and one choral piece. Much of his motivation for his compositional ideas comes from the text selected as the basis for the lyrics.

I asked him to describe To Make a Prairie and how the texts were chosen.

"I settled on the prairie/nature theme for these songs in order to reflect, as least in part, the fact that their creation came out of a South Dakota Music Teachers Association commission. I wanted poetry that would reflect the large expanse of land, the vast sky, the winters and the importance of all things natural in the primarily rural environment of South Dakota.

Although Emily Dickinson never visited South Dakota--or any prairie--she certainly wrote many poems about nature. The first poem I chose, 'To Make a Prairie,' seemed a perfect way to begin. In it, I tried to recreate in sound the simplicity and revery of the poem. The second poem, 'She Sweeps with Many Colored Brooms,' is about a beautiful sunset, and the music's sweeping phrases depict the wide expanse of a colorful evening sky.

"The third song, 'It Sifts from Leaden Sieves,' is a poetic and musical depiction of gently falling snow, which covers everything in a smooth, white blanket. The fourth, 'Two Butterflies Went Out at Noon and Waltzed Upon a Farm,' is the waltz of two butterflies. The constant triplet figure in the accompaniment attempts to bring into view the two butterflies flitting through a farm on a bright, sunny day. All of the poetic images chosen for these songs are visible in many geographic locations, but certainly they are part of life in South Dakota. I found the colorful, lyrical, image-rich language of Emily Dickinson ideal for setting to music." Hoekman further explained that, according to the South Dakota commission guidelines, the soprano part was constructed so it could be performed by an advanced high school or early collegiate singer.

I asked Timothy about his primary musical influences as a composer. "I don't think saying that the fact that you are influenced by any composers means you will sound like these composers." He then listed several composers he feels have influenced his compositional style, including Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Britten, Wolf and Argento.

As a composer, Hoekman exemplifies the composer-performer. He has worked extensively with both singers and piano accompanists at many colleges throughout the United States and performed as collaborative pianist nationwide and abroad. This experience is reflected in the well-integrated piano and vocal writing in To Make a Prairie.

This year, thirty-three states commissioned new works for consideration for the MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year. Congratulations to South Dakota and to Timothy Hoekman for To Make a Prairie.

Thomas Ediger, NCTM

Chair, MTNA Composer Commissioning Program

Nebraska City, Nebraska

He is the director of choral activities and professor of music at Peru State College.
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Author:Ediger, Thomas
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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