Iowa School of Music 2021-22 Magazine

Feature Story



A special celebratory project in the 100th anniversary season of the UI Symphony Orchestra When Assistant Professor and Director of Orchestral Studies Mélisse Brunet first discovered composer Mary D. Watkins’ Five Movements of Color, she knew she uncovered something special. In her mission to bring rarely performed music to audiences, she had spent hours searching online for lists of under-recognized composers on her own. Watkins—an 82-year-old Black woman living in California—composes not only orchestral scores, but also vocal pieces, operas, jazz, and chamber music. As a commissioned piece for the Camellia Symphony Orchestra written in 1994, she describes Five Movements of Color as an epic statement about the African American experience. It brings together elements of jazz, classical, and contemporary techniques to tell a centuries-long story of Africans being kidnapped from their homeland in the 1600s, enslaved on American soil, and their struggle for freedom, equality, and human and civil rights, which continue to a lesser degree into the present. “When I decided to perform it here, I knew it would benefit students and others to discover her music,” Brunet explains. She rented the piece from Watkins and introduced it to the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra for the first time. “The first rehearsal was a little scary,” describes Brunet. “It was my third month on the job, and I was bringing in a piece that no one knew. I wasn’t sure how people were going to take it, and I knew it was going to be a challenge because it’s new.” But as the orchestra sight read the music, she felt the atmosphere of the room begin to change. The students quickly recognized the power of Watkins’ piece. During the rehearsal process, however, Brunet began to uncover some mistakes in the conductor and orchestral parts—not uncommon with music written in the early days of computer engraving by composers who manage their own careers.

Photo credit: Cecilia Shearon

When I decided to perform it here, I knew it would benefit students and others to discover her music.

– Mélisse Brunet


Made with FlippingBook Digital Proposal Creator