Rodney Rawlings and Michael Scherperel, Composers
  • Jules
  • October 29, 2017

Meet FSOAS ’17 Winning Composers Rodney Rawlings and Michael Scherperel

OOO’s newest tenor, Brian Minnick, joins us to showcase two short songs by two contemporary composers, whose works prove inspiration can happen in places you least expect. Introducing When Matter Touches Antimatter by Rodney Rawlings and Up for #1 by Michael Scherperel! Here them premiere in Austin on Friday, November 3rd. Brian had these questions for the winning composers:

brian-antiup1Brian: Rodney, most composers set their music to the poetry of other writers. What is it like to set your own text to music?

Rodney: Actually, with me the melody always comes first and I write the words to it. A few times, as in my “Ave Maria (Ellen’s Prayer),” I have taken a famous poem as my basic text, but I always freely adapted the words to the music, preserving the feeling and theme, sometimes adjusting the music a bit but keeping the melody’s integrity.

When I write lyrics, often the words come easily at first; but gradually the constraints of rhyme scheme, the effect I wish to preserve, and melody paint me into a corner toward the final cadence, and I am racking my brains to express all I want to within my set musical phrases. If no inspiration comes, I am occasionally forced to change the melody or structure of the song.

Brian: When Matter Touches Antimatter as some really nice jazzy moments. What styles of music inspire you and your writing?

Rodney: Thank you! Concerning categories such as jazz, classical, pop, etc., I have no preferences. I learn from and am passionate about individual works no matter what the style. I’ve analyzed scores by Beethoven, Wagner, Chopin, Bizet, and others. In this connection I must mention Franz Lehár, my first encounter with whose work in Lovro von Matačić’s recording of DIE LUSTIGE WITWE was what started me in composing. Lehár’s mastery of melody in that operetta electrified me, and also led me to a deeper appreciation of the arranger’s art.

To use the term “style” in another sense, I am partial in my own songs to styles that express yearning and reverence for the things of this Earth, such as the fugitive slave’s ordeal in my “Take Me, O St. Lawrence River (Freedom)” and the astronaut’s quest in my “To Venus and Mars.”

In others’ work, I love and study aspirational songs like “When You Wish upon a Star,” “The Wayward Wind,” and “The Long and Winding Road” and dramatic songs like “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” and “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz.” But the music has to be right, irrespective of the theme or style. “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” a country song, fills me with admiration for its concept and execution.

Rodney Rawlings and Michael Scherperel, Composers

Rodney Rawlings and Michael Scherperel, Composers

Brian: Michael, there must be a great story for the origin of this song. Would you mind sharing it?

Michael: This rather silly song was fun to write and DavidMichael Schuster (the David of the dedicatees) and I had a blast performing it. The other dedicatee, by the way, is Eric Stark, Music Director of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. Eric posted on Facebook a photo of the brass plaques posted next to some new toilets on the campus of Butler University and dared—jokingly, I think—his composer friends to write a song using the words. So I did! 

Brian: The quick meter changes throughout give a very unique flow to the piece. What inspired you to use such different meters?

Michael: I have a bit of a penchant for meter changes. In my vocal writing, I try to let the text dictate that, of course. Such changes, along with asymmetrical rhythmic patterns, can provide a lot of amplification to text. It’s my intention—whether always fully realized or not may be another question!—to underscore some aspect of the words, whether to slow them down for emphasis or speed them up for tension. I recently conducted a recording of my chamber opera “Thompson’s Luck”, a work in which both odd meters and meter changes figure prominently. You could peruse a redacted score on my website if you’re interested. The role of Steve Thompson is particularly rife with not only rhythmic angularity but also melodic tension—lots of 7ths and 9ths—since these compositional tools seemed to me to best reflect the man’s character.

Don’t miss these songs! Get tickets for the 2nd Annual Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Art Song!

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Rodney Rawlings, a Torontonian, has had his art songs and concert band pieces performed in Toronto; in Chicago; in Chautauqua, New York; in Geneva, Illinois; in Elgin, Illinois; and in Munster, Indiana. He traces his initial passion for art song to an early encounter with Franz Lehár’s DIE LUSTIGE WITWE. Rodney writes the lyrics to almost all his songs, which concern reverence, aspiration, independence, and the future. These themes also occur in those songs for which he has adapted an existing text.

To find out more about Rodney, visit his website https://ca.linkedin.com/in/rodneyrawlings.

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Michael Scherperel studied composition and conducting at the Eastman School of Music where his principal instrument was organ. He later undertook graduate studies in piano, composition, and conducting at Boston University. He holds a B.A. in chemistry from Harvard and a M. Mus. in accompanying from the University of Miami. Mr. Scherperel has been at various times a vocal coach at the American Institute of Musical Studies (Graz, Austria), chorusmaster and assistant conductor with the Greater Miami Opera (now the Florida Grand Opera), music director of the Broward Symphony Orchestra, and artistic director of the Fort Lauderdale Symphony Chorus. Mr. Scherperel was a founding member of the Miami Chamber Trio and makes frequent appearances in chamber music and vocal concerts.

To find out more about Michael, visit his website www.michaelscherperel.com.

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