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Music professor’s songs to be performed at Carnegie Hall

Dan Musselman composed a song cycle that will soon be featured at Carnegie Hall. (Photo by Victoria Stargel)
Dan Musselman composed a song cycle that will soon be featured at Carnegie Hall. (Photo by Victoria Stargel)

JACKSON, Tenn.Dec. 10, 2013 – Several songs composed by Union University professor Dan Musselman will be featured at New York City’s Carnegie Hall Dec. 20.

Musselman, assistant professor of music, said he was impressed by the vocal talents of Hope Thacker, a former Union adjunct professor, after hearing a recital she gave last year. Once he learned that Thacker needed music for her upcoming Carnegie Hall performance, Musselman offered to compose an original song cycle tailored to Thacker’s creative interests – and she agreed.

“Hope is really interested in new music,” said Musselman, who has written several other song cycles, or groups of songs written by the same composer or based on a common theme. “I’m glad that she was willing to take a chance with new music from me.”

Thacker wanted a strong, feminine vocal role in the songs, Musselman said, and he researched several historical figures on which to base this role, including women from the Bible.

But Musselman eventually found his inspiration in the letters of Abigail Adams, the wife of former president John Adams.

“Hope wanted something that had some sass, as she described it,” said Musselman, who was reading a biography about John Adams when he was commissioned to write the song cycle. “I started poking around online and found that Abigail’s letters are just a fabulous resource. Abigail was quite a spunky, sassy individual who was not afraid to voice her opinion.”

The letters between John and Abigail began during their courting days and lasted until he retired, Musselman said, at which point the couple no longer needed letters to communicate. For the songs’ text, Musselman focused solely on Abigail’s letters to John, which detailed not only the challenges of life during the Revolutionary War but also the strength of their marriage.

Musselman read through each letter Abigail wrote, as he searched for letters with interesting subject matter or sentences with good rhythm. He then used text from a single letter to create a song.

No song contains the text of a whole letter, Musselman noted, since the letters are too long to sing in entirety.

“It’s hard to describe why I picked one letter and not another,” Musselman said. “The letter had to have something special in it – something that’s just really unique.”

For some songs, Musselman was able to use the letters’ sentences in the order that Abigail had written them. For other songs, such as the song about the death of Abigail’s mother, he rearranged the sentence order to create a more dramatic and emotional experience for the audience.

Musselman said he finished composing in October. The resulting song cycle – his first to be performed at Carnegie Hall – consists of six original songs that can be performed in about 15 minutes.

“Dan has truly chosen wonderful texts and set them in such an effective manner,” said Thacker, who is now a visiting assistant professor of voice at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. “It’s apparent that he loves his craft and is committed to beautiful art through music.”

By Beth Knoll

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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