Commissioned by Access Contemporary Music.
Premiered on September 27, 2019 at the Doors Open Milwaukee Festival, Cory Tiffin, clarinet and Peter Thomas, cello.
I first saw a picture of Milwaukee’s Grain Exchange in a 360-degree view online. I could imagine walking in and looking up in wonder at its soaring ceilings and hand-painted frescoes, a feeling more reminiscent of a cathedral than a place of commerce. I was impressed by its beauty, the grand proportions, and the sense of open space. The light streaming through its dome skylight and towering windows seemed to convey a sense of optimism and American “can do”.
I imagined the bustling comings and goings of the people then and now. The space started to feel like a kind of piazza, echoing its Italianate architecture. I imagined it in its hey-day, the center of a flourishing grain trade; the haggling and deal making, arguments and agreements of the marketplace, and the social exchanges. I wanted my new composition to reflect the spirit of exchange in this “piazza”, a marketplace but also a place to congregate, then as now.
I found the three huge wall murals fascinating; homey scenes of farming families, merchants in their boats, and Native Americans with their families outside of their teepees. The murals honor each group as a participant in this exchange, and embody the values of the “heartland” itself, where people are at the heart of it.
I found it interesting that The Grain Exchange houses the first-ever octagonal trading floor. These eight directions made me think of the Native American tradition of welcoming the four directions. I merged these ideas musically in a section, about two-thirds of the way through that has a sudden regularity, and could seem to be a meditative welcome that happens eight times with minimal variation. I think of this as symbolically welcoming everyone in the space, and honoring all people.
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