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Unusual Blend of Baroque and Avant-Garde Results in Commission for Two Meadows Music Students

Proposal for classical-contemporary prelude and fugue lands award from the American Guild of Organists

Hannah Cruse (B.M. Organ and B.M. Oboe ’17) and Trey Stricklin (B.M. Composition ’17) at the Fisk Organ in the Owen Arts Center.

Did You Know?

  • All Meadows music majors receive weekly private lessons with a faculty member specializing in the student’s instrument.
  • The 22,000-member MTNA voted Sam Holland, Algur H. Meadows Dean and Professor of Music, as its 2015 Teacher of the Year.
  • Meadows music students perform in ensembles for a full season of orchestral, wind, chamber, jazz and choral concerts, both on and off campus.

Read more about SMU Meadows Division of Music.

Article Glossary

Avant-Garde: Innovative or experimental art form; often considered radical.

Baroque: Style of classical music made popular circa 1600-1750; typically includes contrast as a dramatic element.

Fugue: A contrapuntal (two or more independent melodic lines) composition in which a short melody or phrase is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts.

Prelude: A short piece of music that can be thought of as a preface or introduction.

Registration: The choice of stops selected by an organist or harpsichordist.

When music students Hannah Cruse and Trey Stricklin entered the annual American Guild of Organists (AGO) Student Commissioning Project last fall, they proposed an unconventional pairing: a blend of Baroque and avant-garde for prelude and fugue.

“I thought about all the organ pieces that really stood out to me,” said Stricklin (B.M. Composition ’17). “Of course I went to Bach. But then I also thought about combining that form with a contemporary piece like Volumnia, by György Ligeti. It’s an avant-garde piece where the entire score is just a graphic showing where you move your hands on the keyboard to make different textures.”

Their proposal for prelude and fugue was rewarded with a commission from the AGO and a $1,000 cash prize.

“There’s a significant element of improvisation included in the main theme that Hannah will have control over, so when that main theme or idea returns, it will always be related to Hannah’s initial improvisational idea,” said Stricklin. “That way, she will have control over the entire fugue and can improvise as she sees fit.”

“It will be interesting to see how it goes,” said Cruse, who hasn’t done a lot of improvisation at Meadows so far. But the prospect of amping up her improvisation skills intrigues her.

“I’ve played a few pieces by student composers who marked everything out, very explicitly, down to each stop on the organ,” said Cruse. “But honestly, since they weren’t organists, it didn’t create a great overall desired effect. If they had left the score more ambiguous, more up to the performer, it probably would have come out better because organists know how to make it work.”

Faculty influence

Both students say their skills have flourished under Meadows professors.

“Every single professor I’ve had the opportunity to work with one-on-one at Meadows has really helped me a lot,” said Stricklin, who plays the oboe. “I’ve learned a huge amount from my composition professors Xi Wang and Lane Harder, and oboist Erin Hannigan.”

“Hannigan has been a big influence on my oboe playing too,” said Cruse. “And Stefan Engels is a fabulous organist. He really expanded my idea of registration on the organ, and he encourages soloing out melodic lines with colorful combinations of stops. I appreciate that as an orchestral player.”

Cruse adds that an electro-acoustic music class she took with Dr. Robert Frank broadened her knowledge of various kinds of music and introduced her to ways of creating music beyond her current scope. “And my exposure to jazz with Melissa Murray and world music with the World Ensemble with Jonathan Jones were really fun. All of this has helped me loosen up a bit on the organ.”

The final commissioned score for the AGO is scheduled to be completed by April 1. The new work must be performed at least three times before January 2017. Cruse plans to debut the new work at her junior-year recital, April 13 at 7:15 p.m. in Caruth Auditorium, where she will play the 3,681pipe Fisk organ.

Read more about the SMU Meadows Division of Music and the Department of Composition.

Read more about the American Guild of Organists.

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