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Student composers, writers combine art forms

Mariela Patron
Staff Writer

University of Southern California students brought music and lyrics together by presenting their original compositions in a collaborative concert titled, “New and Newer: An Evening of World Premieres” on March 28 at the Boston Court in Pasadena.

About 50 students and professors attended the concert. It was the second presentation for the “Writers and Composers” class that has composers create a musical accompaniment to the writers’ poetry.

The night began with an opera singer who captivated the audience with her emotion and strong vocals.

“It’s a wonderful space and the acoustics resonate,” author of the poem “Lovesick Wanderer O Dervish of the Restless Heart,” Saba Syed Razvi, said.

The writers took an average of three days to create their poem, and the composers about three weeks to write the music.

“Our goal is that (students) will work with all different voices,” Lisa Sylvester , professor of vocal arts and opera at USC said.

The somber piano music accompaniments fit the dark mood of most of the poetry presented.

In the poem, “Noon, not a sound from Tula,” Christopher Santiago wrote a eulogy about a grandfather he never met.

“I should send word I’m dying, but no one can move, not even to wipe the sweat from their eyes,” the poem reads.

In the performance of the poem “As Absented As” by Elise Suklije Martin, the clashing sound of what seemed like a sword being sharpened echoed at random times.

In the middle of “As Absented As,” soprano singer Jennifer Lee stopped singing and started laughing as gongs, cymbals, wind chimes and static television sounds blared around the room.

“The way the singers throw themselves, I felt their freedom in the performances,” Elizabeth Hynes, chair of vocal arts and opera at USC said.

The music became less eerie toward the end of the concert.

The poem “As if to Say,” by Elizabeth Cantwell, transitioned from a description of daily errands to the narrator being in front of the door of their loved one.

“My clothes. Holding up my clothes, naked, on your front porch. It’s night and your door is closed. Darling, I miss you,” the poem reads.

Cantwell discussed how when she first presented her poem some readers took the narrator to be literally naked.

“It’s mostly about what it’s like to be in love with someone; how difficult it could be to open up to someone in a relationship,” Cantwell said.

The concert concluded with the poem “Gun,” inspired by the Andy Warhol painting of three guns in black, red and white.

The music for “Gun” was composed by Michael Couper and was the only performance without a live piano accompaniment.

Instead, it was sung by mezzo-soprano singer Shabnam Kalbasi to an upbeat, Arabian-sounding track.

The final project of the “Writers and Composers” class takes place May 3 at USC.

Mariela Patron can be reached at

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