I had the pleasure of writing the commissioned work for the 2014-2015 All-State Women’s Chorus, and it was a beautiful and fulfilling experience. Through singing this new work, “Sing, Wearing the Sky,” these young women helped to reveal layers in the text and the music that even I didn’t know existed. I learned a great deal from the talented singers as we shared in music-making together and was uplifted by their enthusiastic spirits and love for music. I am so thankful to ACDA of MN and MMEA for commissioning composers to write new music and providing the opportunity for these students to work with living composers. This year, Minneapolis-based composer Paul Rudoi was chosen to write a work for the 2015-2016 All-State Men’s Chorus. I caught up with Paul to discuss his new work and his experiences working with the All-State students.
Jake Runestad: Tell me a bit about the work you wrote for the All-State Men’s Chorus.
Paul Rudoi: The work is an ode to men of all ages, daring them to dream big, instigate change, and help create a society and culture in which they truly want to live and believe.
Jake: Why did you choose to set the text by T.E. Lawrence?
Paul: Lawrence’s quote talks about how there are two types of dreaming men: some that dream passively, and others that dream actively, dangerously. When I read this quote, I immediately took the word "dangerous" to be synonymous with "daring" and thought that it would be great to set for men's voices. A month later, I got word that I would write a piece for the MN All-State Men's Choir, and it was just a perfect fit.
Jake: Did you have the opportunity to interact/work with the choir? What was that like?
Paul: I did, and it was wonderful! All of these young men truly care about music and creating art with one another. It reminded me of why my All-State experiences in high school were some of my all-time favorite music making experiences. I received great feedback from Jeff Johnson and the performers, and we created an even better version of the piece. That's an invaluable aspect of working with the artists in person: we all end up with a product even more tailored to the people in the room!
Jake: What was unique about this commissioning experience compared to others you have had?
Paul: This commission was in many ways a convergence of various aspects of my career thus far. It came full circle for me to create a work for high school and All-State level singers, since it was my own All-State experience that helped solidify my desire to become a musician. It also was the first time that I was commissioned outside of Cantus for a work for men's voices, a culminating aspect of my work in the ensemble over the past eight years.
Jake: What have you learned in the process of writing this work for this ensemble?
Paul: I had to be careful not to add too much musical gravity, since the words carried so much weight by themselves. That was a difficult task, and ultimately my tempi were still a bit too extreme. Luckily I had the opportunity to hear the group change them to suit their needs, and I have a better understanding of what I need to do in the future.
Jake: How has this work impacted your journey of exploring your own artistic voice?
Paul: I based this work on a quote rather than a poem, and I'm realizing this is more and more my style. To me, exploring a small set of words in a variety of shifts and changes allows that one small text to mean so many things, hopefully offering each individual an investment in the variety of meanings.
Jake: In reading a previous blurb about the work, you mentioned you thought the text would be relevant to a high school student. What is your personal connection to the words and the music? How do they speak to your own human condition?
Paul: In this day and age, we're working to rectify gender- and race-dominated aspects of our society. Often the dominating demographic gets overlooked or minimized in the process, but this quote felt different. Instead of focusing on the past or present, this wonderful quote offered a very direct look at how men can truly affect change in the future. I only hope to be one of those men throughout my life, along with these men in All-State, and hopefully many, many others.
Jake Runestad, an award-winning Minneapolis-based composer, has received commissions and performances from leading ensembles and organizations including Washington National Opera, the Netherlands Radio Choir, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, VocalEssence, Seraphic Fire, The Singers, and Grammy-winning Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare. Dubbed a “choral rockstar” by American Public Media, Jake is one of the most frequently performed composers in the U.S.A. and has a diverse catalog including works for chorus, wind band, orchestra, chamber ensembles, and three operas. Learn more about Jake Runestad on his website: jakerunestad.com