Disputatio Magna

What is life without adversity? Even though conflict might make us uncomfortable, it is an unavoidable part of life. At the time I was writing this piece, our country was caught up in the razzle-dazzle of the presidential election. Watching the candidates debate, I took time to reflect on the nature of conflict and debate. Debates occur on every scale imaginable. There are debates in relationships, on a national level, and on larger, international scales. In all of these debates I observed several similar characteristics. I find that there seems to be three voices involved. There are the two debating parties, and then the third entity which observes said argument. In this piece, the horn and cello take on the roles of the debating parties while the piano plays the part of the observer.

The piano begins with a sombre and brooding opening, setting the stage for a serious conversation to follow. The debating parties enter with slight trepidation, and eventually the horn begins to divulge its own ‘opinion’. As the horn’s idea is tossed about by both the cello and the piano in various forms, we slowly approach the cello’s opportunity to speak for itself. As that moment approaches, it is trod upon by the horn,  and the cello’s chance to speak is crushed by the horn’s persistence. Both voices fight for the chance to speak before all the parties enter a rare moment of harmonious discourse. They find common ground and a platform on which to agree. It even appears that perhaps the horn and the cello have been saying and wishing for the same result the entire time. Even this moment is short lived as old views come creeping back into the conversation. All harmony is abandoned as once again the voices fight to be heard. Despite passionate pleas from all sides, the piece ends somewhat unresolved, and without a winner being officially declared.

As to what each voice represents, that is left to the listener. No instrument embodies a certain entity or opinion, nor does the piece represent any particular debate.   It only entertains the emotions and actions present in many conflicts. Conflict is both a damaging and healing process. It can repair relationships and it can divide countries. Whatever the result, it is caused by the attitudes of the debaters.


Jared Hettrick is a candidate for the Master of Music degree in Composition at the Longy School of Music of Bard College and the winner of the 2013 Radius-Longy Composition Competition.  He holds a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance from Toccoa Falls College where he studied with David Jones.  His  Israel Suite, for clarinet, harp, and strings was recently premiered by the Toccoa Symphony Orchestra.

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Black Birds, Red Hills

Just two weeks from now, on February 2 (Groundhog day!) we’ll be performing a bird-themed concert at the Shailen Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA as part of the Cape Ann Birding Weekend.  One of the pieces on the program, Libby Larsen’s Black birds, red hills, is based on six paintings by the American Georgia O’Keeffe.  I thought it would be fun to post those paintings here.

Get tickets for the February 2 Rockport performance here.

Listen to selections from the piece, streamed from Libby Larsen’s website here.

Click images to enlarge.

Movement I

#1 Pedernal and Red Hills, 1936
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Movement II
#2 Black Rock with Blue Sky and White Clouds, 1972
Oil on canvas

Movment III
#3 Red and Orange Hills, 1938
Oil on canvas
Collection of Judge and Mrs. Oliver Seth

#4 Red hills and Sky, 1945
Oil on Canvas
Private Collection

Movment IV
#5 A Black Bird with Snow-Covered Red Hills, 1946
Oil on Canvas
Collection of Susan and David Workman

#6 Black Bird Series (In the Patio IX), 1950
Oil on Canvas
Not available


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Seafoam and Firelight

Edgar Varèse, Anton Webern, Zoltán Kodály, and Igor Stravinsky. These are the names of composers born the same year, or within a year, of Arnold Bax. While the composers on the continent were occupied with dismantling and re-assembling the Western tonal system, Bax was reading the poems of Yeats.

Famously, Bax—an Englishman—remarked upon reading The Wanderings of Usheen, “…and in a moment the Celt within me stood revealed,” and from that moment forward developed a particular, and somewhat peculiar, relationship with Ireland. In his enlightening article “Into the Twilight: Arnold Bax and Ireland, ” Séamas de Barra reflects that Bax’s infatuation with the land revolved around a sort of escapism, manifested in a “self-dramatising infatuation with Ireland.” Indeed, Bax was Continue reading

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