Wisconsin Composer Series: Blake Henson

As we lead up to our April 18th concert featuring music by Wisconsin composers, we are profiling some of the composers and their pieces that we are featuring. We hope that you come out and join us at Alverno College Chapel on April 18th at 7 p.m.!

Blake R. Henson www.blakernenson.com

Blake R. Henson
www.blakernenson.com

Blake Henson: “My Flight for Heaven”

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Blake Henson now resides in De Pere, Wisconsin and is an Assistant Professor of Music at St. Norbert College. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music theory and composition from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, as well as a Doctorate of Musical Arts in composition from The Ohio State University. He has received commissions from such groups and organizations as Chanticleer, Westminster Choir, Kantorei, Williamson Voices, Anam Cara, Masterwork Chorus and Orchestra, The Thomas Circle Singers, and the New Jersey Chamber Singers.

We are performing his piece “My Flight for Heaven” on our April concert, as well as in our May collaborative concert with the Marion Consort and the Oak Creek Knight singers. Here are the composer’s notes found in the piece, which do a wonderful job of describing what it’s all about:

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In the fall of 2006, I was approached about composing a piece for the Westminster Choir in honor of Joe Miller’s appointment as Director of Choral Activities at Rider University’s Westminster College Choir. As a Westminster alumnus, I was quite touched to be offered such a commission and I instantly began searching for a text that seemed apropos to the occasion. I spent the greater part of August scouring my favorite poetry anthologies, hoping to find inspiration in an old favorite. No such luck.

Instead of turning to something familiar, I decided to approach a poet with whom I’ve done a great deal of work about collaborating on a new adventure. While she was excited about my ideas, the red tape brought on my contracts with her publishers wouldn’t allow us to work together for at least three more years. Completely wrought with dismay, I decided to temporarily shelve the work while I let my creativity reboot and start the process anew.

A few months later I was in New York meeting with a young conductor about my writing a work for his chamber ensemble. I was reluctant to take the commission given the grey mist gathered around my piece for Westminster. In attempt to explain why I felt obligated to decline, I recounted the story of textual misfortunes. “Why don’t you use that Robert Herrick poem?” he asked. “The one that begins, ‘Charm me asleep.'”

I’ve been looking for a chance to set To Music, Becalm His Fever for nearly ten years, but had always passed on the opportunity, feeling that my own limited life experience stood in the way of the text. This time, however, I jumped on the idea, throwing caution to the wind. I actually cut my meeting with the conductor short to run home to my piano and begin writing.

The resulting work, My Flight for Heaven, takes Herrick’s text about seeking comfort in the welcome embrace of death and shifts the point of view to invoke music while striving toward a new life without pain, suffering, war and famine. Dr. Miller and I share a very strong, unique passion for music and its profound ability to change the world; this text seemed perfectly in keeping with our common goal. When the choir premiered the piece in the Spring of 2007, I was overwhelmed by the number of audience members who spoke to me afterwards, touched by the work, seeing the text as a metaphor for their own hardships and finding comfort in the music itself. The experience was exceedingly humbling, and I soon realized that while I set out to change the world, I was the one who had been touched. I tried to change the world, but the world, it seemed, had changed me.

To learn more about Blake Henson and his music, visit www.blakerhenson.com.

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