Cardinal Cadence Spring/Summer 2013

Cardinal inspiration

Scott Deppe, left, congratulates Joel LoveMusican Joel Love ’07 is already acclaimed as a composer, with prestigious commissions, performances and honors to his credit, reflecting an eclectic array of artistic expression. But when he received a commission for a work honoring Wayne Dyess—a friend and mentor—he found the process daunting and uplifting.

“It was an emotional process on many levels,” said Love, whose composition, A Cardinal’s Hymn, left the Lamarissimo! audience in awe at its world premiere March 7. The Lamar Wind Ensemble performed the work in tribute to Lamar’s longtime director of jazz studies, who died Feb. 27.

“It was a pleasure and a joy to write it,” said Love, a LaBelle native and Hamshire-Fannett High School graduate and I hope it gave people some catharsis in the wake of Wayne’s passing.”

When he began writing the piece, Love said, he came up with a melody that was familiar, simple and strong—and whose defining melodic characteristics reminded him of a famous brass piece by Modest Mussorgsky, The Great Gate of Kiev, which he knew Dyess loved.

“After I wrote the opening, my grandfather died, so my life was slightly colored by the sadness of grief, and I couldn’t help but imagine a searching soul traveling through the universe. It was my thought at the time that the best way to encapsulate that emotion was to take the main melody and create the subject on an interior fugue, with all its complexity and process.

“Of course, Wayne was always a joy, so the piece had to end with a joyous return of his melody, and the piece closes reverently, meditating on the range of the emotions that took place.”

When Lamar’s Gamma Zeta chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, national honorary band fraternity, commissioned Love to write the work, he said, “I honestly felt humbled by the honor of offering a piece to a man who has deeply influenced innumerable lives, including my own.

“I was overwhelmed by his passing, knowing that a piece I wrote in his honor would be premiered only days later,” Love said. “Because I had such a strong connection to Wayne—being that I played piano in both the Night & Day Orchestra and the Lamar Jazz Band, it was particularly touching to hear the Lamar Wind Ensemble give such a great rendering of the piece.”

A Cardinal’s Hymn is spirited, enigmatic, warm and brilliant, all at the same time,” announcer Byron Balentine told the audience. “It also holds a touch of poignancy. Whatever words you can think of to describe Wayne Dyess, you will hear them in this composition.”

Scott Deppe ’90, ’12, director of bands, conducted the Wind Ensemble in the performance. “It was a real honor to present the world premiere of A Cardinal’s Hymn in tribute to Dr. Dyess,” Deppe said, adding that it was also a momentous occasion to feature another Love composition, Aurora Borealis, which was selected for performance at the 2013 Society of Composers Inc. National Conference in Columbus, Ohio. The Texas A&M University Symphonic Winds recently performed Aurora Borealis, which was selected as a finalist in the third international Frank Ticheli Competition, the largest competition for wind ensemble in the world.

Love’s music explores an eclectic mix of genres, from short video pieces to works for chamber and large ensembles. It creates colorful landscapes of sound through the use of image, melody and tonality, and seeks to reveal the connection between music and spirituality.

Love began playing music at age 11 and composing at 14. He earned his bachelor of musical composition from Lamar in 2007 and his master of composition from the University of Houston in 2010. He is now completing his doctor of musical arts in composition at the University of Texas.

“My career has been affected by the wide variety of skills I was able to cultivate as a student at Lamar University,” Love said. “I was able to play trumpet in the Wind Ensemble; play piano in the Jazz Band; take piano with world-class teachers (Betsy Hines and Jimmy Simmons); take composition lessons from perhaps the smartest man I’ve ever met, Nick Rissman; sing in the A Cappella Choir; work as a sound engineer for the school; and to have my new works read and premiered in all of the above ensembles.

“I would be very surprised if an undergraduate at a much larger institution were able to have the same kind of all-inclusive and rounded experience as I did. I still use the things that were taught to me at Lamar as a foundation for many things that I do.”

Among those premieres was the choir’s 2006 performance of O Nata Lux, which Love composed for chorus, piano and goblets. “If you run your finger slowly along the rim of a crystal glass or goblet, a high, definite and very ethereal pitch resonates,” Love explained. Love’s Lamar career also included writing the score for a communication department documentary on Hurricane Rita and working as an announcer for KVLU public radio.

Rissman, associate professor of music, recalls: “Every week, in our composition lesson, he would ask me if I had read such and such (Hawking’s new book on black holes, Calder’s new book on physics, Leonard Feather’s new book on Charlie Parker, etc.). Our lessons would run over because we spent so much time talking about books and ideas, as well as composition, and in the process . . . I would rush out and buy the books, just to stay up with him.”

PARMA Recordings, a New England-based audio production house, selected Love’s Synchronicity in Purple Minor for publication in its 2012 Anthology. Real Fiction received a Compositional Excellence Citation from the New York Youth Symphony. Da Camera of Houston presented Love with an Aspiring Artist Award and the commission of Just One Person.

Love’s works have been performed by The Aura Contemporary Music Ensemble, The Boston New Music Initiative, the Ohio State University Wind Symphony and the University of Texas Wind Symphony. Others have been exhibited at art galleries throughout the United States. His film scores include the documentary Stitched, official selection at the 2011 Carmel Art and Film Festival, and a short film, Kidfellas, honored as Best Musical Score at Houston’s 2011 48-Hour Film Project. Other notable collaborations have featured a citywide public art exhibit with artist Karyn Oliver, Inbound: Houston, and a three-month installation by Prince Thomas (associate professor of art at Lamar) Joy, On Sorrow, at the Houston Center for Photography, praised by the Houston Chronicle as “a beautiful piece that feels cleansing to watch.”

This spring, Love performed his new song cycle, The Peace of Wild Things, with soprano Amelia Ciskey at SXSW in Austin, where Capital Public Radio’s Nick Broomer, hailed it as a “gorgeous piece of music, just wafting along into the ether.” Love has been commissioned by a duo in Houston, Liminal Space, to write a new chamber work. Violinist Nancy Gaub and violist Ann Rogen, both Julliard alumnae, recently chose to perform Synchronicity in Purple Minor at the Roycroft Chamber Music Festival in East Aurora, N.Y. He is writing a one-act opera for his UT dissertation. And, he said, “There are many other things on the cooker.”

When Love was a Lamar senior, the first paragraph of a feature article foretold his future: “It happens to all of us. You open your paper and read about someone from small-town U.S.A. who has made a name for himself or herself, earned acclaim and reached the pinnacle of success. Well, heed this: One day, you will read the story of Lamar University student and future hometown hero Joey Love.”

by Louise Wood