Friday, August 22, 2014

CCC 113 - Andrea Ramsey

American composer and educator Andrea Ramsey is the focus of this week's Consonant Classical Challenge. Dr. Ramsey has a long and distinguished career working with children's choirs. She's taught at public schools and now is on the faculty of Ohio State University.

Most of her compositions are for choral groups. Writing music for the limited range and abilities of children and student choirs can be somewhat restrictive. Ramsey's talent is creating works that are substantial works of art within those confines. Almost by necessity her works are tonal. Yet there's nothing trite or cliche about them. She uses the relaxed relationships of post-romanticism to create fluid harmonies that move in response to the text.

As Dr. Ramsey explains in her guidelines to commissioning works from her, "As the text is typically the starting point, the composer's ability to creatively connect with the text is paramount."

"Heaven unfolding" is neo-romantic in style, with an elegiac cello obbligato.

"Through the Dark" is a setting of text by Helen Keller. This simple and beautiful music has hints of atonality, but there's never any real question of its tonal foundation.

Not all of Ramsey's works are quiet and delicate. "I See the Heaven's Glories Shine" is heroic music that illuminates the text effectively. In this performance, the acoustics of the church help fill out the sound of the choir.

I like to think that Andrea Ramsey not only disproves the cliche that contemporary music is ugly and unlistenable (the purpose of this series), but also that classical music is dying and irrelevant. Virtually all of her commissions come from student and youth choirs. Her music is being premiered by young people who clearly enjoy singing it (judging from the many YouTube concert videos available).

So to them, classical music isn't just something created by dead white Europeans of the last century -- it's music created for them by living composers that (in some cases) have visited them and worked with them to create new sounds for a new generation.

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