Curt Cacioppo Honors "Lives That Speak" In Song
The Ruth Marshall Magill Professor of Music has written 13 new solo piano pieces inspired by the College's history and plans for its future, which he will premiere Oct. 28 at an event celebrating the recent conclusion of the successful capital campaign.
Music was an important part of Haverford's recent Lives That Speak campaign, which raised more than $269 million to transform the campus both inside and out, including support for forthcoming renovation of Roberts Hall as a new home for the Bi-Co Music Department. So it seems only fitting that it also be a major part of the upcoming celebration for the campaign's successful completion.
On Oct. 28, as part of Family and Friends Weekend and Homecoming, the College will host a special event in the Alumni Field House, including a reception, a party, and a theatrical presentation called "Lives That Speak: A Tapestry in Sound and Vision." Anchoring that production will be 13 new solo piano compositions, written by Ruth Marshall Magill Professor of Music Curt Cacioppo.
These pieces, known collectively as "Cameos From The Quaker Domain," aren't the first time Cacioppo has written music about the College—he estimates that he has composed over two dozen pieces about Haverford, its people, and its landscape—but it certainly represents the most tightly defined framework in which he had to compose.
"There were tight parameters applied to all these works—I could not rhapsodize as for a concert piece, but needed to serve a larger, theatrical sequence of events," he said, referencing the fact that the short pieces will act as introductions to speakers who will then share information about the different campaign priorities. "The time constraints made it more rigid than if I were asked to write a fanfare for an academic procession, for example. But I rose to the occasion, I think, and had quite bit of fun, actually."
Invited to score the campaign celebration at the start of the fall semester, Cacioppo worked quickly, improvising his way into each piece and taking inspiration from different aspects of the school. Diverse subjects such as a Lenni Lenape planting song (representing the history of the land on which the College stands), famed musicologist and Class of 1906 alum Sigmund Spaeth's “Haverford Harmony Song,” the sounds of a referee's whistle (referencing the College's athletic achievements), the Haverford Black Squirrel, and the pillars of Roberts Hall have all inspired different aspects of the music. Each runs exactly one minute.
"For the very first piece I start with a little contrapuntal musical icon that represents each letter in the name 'Haverford' in musical notes," said Cacioppo. "This curious thing recurs throughout in different ways. And its first expression moves into an improvisation on an old Quaker—well, actually it’s Baptist, but the Quakers loved it and adopted it—song, 'How Can I Keep From Singing?'"
Another piece, known as "Conscience and Judgment," even features an instrumental declamation of the famous words of Haverford's former president Isaac Sharpless: "I suggest that you preach truth and do righteousness as you have been taught, whereinsoever that teaching may commend itself to your consciences and your judgments. For your consciences and your judgments we have not sought to bind."
Though the 13 compositions all sound very different and have their own unique sensibilities —some quiet and hymn-like, others more muscular and rhythmic—they can, says Cacioppo, also be played together as a set; the better for recognizing the recurring icons and motifs.
On Oct. 28, they will serve as introductions to short presentations about each of the Lives That Speak priorities, from new spaces on campus to new academic programs, financial aid and the endowment to ethical leadership, sustainability, and more. And pianist Cacioppo will play all of them himself live.
"I think the audience is going to hear a lot of variety," he said. "They are going to get to see me playing, and people who have enjoyed my work in the past will be able to enjoy this next step in the development of my musical language."