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Poetry Swells Through Music, Voices, and Instruments

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Wisconsin Schools Celebrate The Wisconsin Arts Board's 50th Anniversary Project
Composer Erika Svanoe Collaborated with Poet Dasha Kelly Hamilton to Compose Works for Choir, Concert Band, and String Orchestra

Listen to “Like the Wind,” for choir, concert band, and string orchestra, and download the sheet music composed by Erika Svanoe.
Download the Music Lesson Plans by Tony Kading

ConnectEd interviewed Composer and Educator Erika Svanoe about her artistic process engaging with the project, and what she thought about the collaboration.

Erika Svanoe: Dasha's poem is so beautiful that I knew I had to use her poem as the basis for the lyrics that would be used in the choral version (I would never be able to put words together with that much meaning and beauty!). I think the most challenging part of the process was reworking the poem in a way that was true to Dasha's artistic vision, but would still work as song lyrics in a way that was going to make sense for the song structure I wanted to use. I began by composing a song with a vocal melody and simple accompaniment.

The title "Like the Wind" appears in one of the stanzas which became the chorus, and some other stanzas that had a repetitive nature to them became the pre-chorus. The verses of the song were a bit more flexible, so I was able to modify the melody around the words a bit more in these sections. The poem itself is also about the creative process of "undoing" in order to create something new, so I felt like Dasha had implicitly given me permission to deconstruct and reconstruct the poem to fit a new medium.

Once the song was complete, I worked on the version for choir. This is my first attempt at writing for chorus, so I spent a lot of time studying choral writing before beginning. I have found that looking at other scores is the most useful way to learn how to write, though I also did some research and reading to supplement that process. The same is true for the string orchestra version. I looked at several pieces and reviewed string writing and technique appropriate for middle and high school students, and also changed the key to fit that ensemble better.

For both the choir and orchestra versions, I called in favors from master music educators in those areas to give me editing suggestions, which was invaluable. I saved the band version for last, which is where I feel the most comfortable since I've been writing music for band for several years.

ConnectEd: What got you interested in joining this project?

Erika Svanoe: As a Wisconsin resident who had the benefit of many arts education opportunities provided by Wisconsin public schools, the UW-System, and numerous Wisconsin-based non-profit arts entities, I'm thrilled to be able to create this music and have it made available for free to all Wisconsin students. What a fitting celebration of the Wisconsin Arts Board to make this kind of project come to life and support the arts education of Wisconsin's young people. Arts education is so critical to our state's youngest residents, and I'm grateful to be able to make a small contribution to this effort that is taken on by our state's art educators every day.

View Next Lessons:
Creativity Made Visible Through Visual and Media Arts

Wisconsin Schools Celebrate The Wisconsin Arts Board's 50th Anniversary Project