Program Notes for Dust

(The following notes appeared in the program for the premiere of Dust at Kemper Center Chapel, Kenosha, Wisconsin on March 13, 2011.)

Dust: A Lenten Journey is a song cycle on poems written by Rebecca Engstrom with music by her long-time friend, composer Philip Thompson. Engstrom wrote the poems over a period of ten years, but it was not until the summer of 2010 that she considered linking them together to form the basis of a musical work. She showed the poems to Thompson who was immediately intrigued. He had already been planning to use the familiar hymn tune Old Rugged Cross as source material for a new composition that would deal with, in a way similar to Engstrom’s poems, the struggle for authentic faith. Soon after their initial discussions, Engstrom and Thompson embarked on a highly collaborative effort resulting in Dust — a song cycle for soprano, string quartet, and live electronics.

The themes set forth in Dust evoke disappointment, pain, loneliness, and despair, particularly in relation to the journey of faith. This is not the typical journey of faith that rises upward, from earth to heaven. This is a Lenten journey of humility, coming down from aspirations of spiritual enlightenment, down through the painful realization of our earthiness, to the vulnerability that is able to accept and embrace our physicality, and find rest in the discovery of the true and genuine self as good, vital, and God-given.

The musical settings cover a wide range of styles, from simple melodies to densely chromatic polyphony to digitally manipulated audio. The audio component of the score frequently involves recorded voices acting as a sort of virtual Greek chorus, revealing the inner world of the “main character”— the soprano. These varied sound elements are often starkly juxtaposed, but the tune of The Old Rugged Cross ties all the disparate parts together, sometimes as an anchor, sometimes as a foil; sometimes deconstructed, and at other times a companion in a moment of epiphany.

About Rebecca Engstrom

Rebecca Engstrom holds degrees in violin performance from the Oberlin Conservatory (B.M) and the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University (M.M). She studied with Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri String Quartet, Victor Aitay of the Chicago Symphony, and Stephen Clapp of the Juilliard School. Born in Zion, Illinois, Rebecca studied at the Zion Conservatory of Music and later served as its director from 2004-2007. As soloist, chamber musician, and lecturer, she has appeared in concert in Chicago, New York, Aspen, London, Jerusalem, and the Netherlands. She has taught at the Westminster College Conservatory in Princeton, New Jersey, and the Zion Conservatory, Illinois.

Rebecca has always been interested in the relationship between theology and music. As a teenager she would perform classical violin pieces in church with commentary linking the music to spiritual themes and sensory experience. She developed a seminar on Color and Music which explored the way sounds and visual color effect our physical bodies, and influence the way we experience connection with God. While living in Jerusalem,

Rebecca gave a series of lecture recitals on the Bach Solo Violin Sonatas at Christ Church, Jerusalem, and Jerusalem University College. In January 2011, she was asked to appear with theologian Dr. Jeremy Begbie of Duke Divinity School and demonstrate Bach’s Chaconne for Begbie’s lecture entitled, Can We Be Creative In A World Made By God?

In 1999 Rebecca began collaboration with UK composer/song writer Adrian Snell. Snell set poetry of Holocaust children to song and Rebecca accompanied him on tour in the Netherlands, and in performances both in Jerusalem and the US. She also created and arranged the violin solos for his work for chorus and orchestra, The Cry: A Requiem for the Lost Child, which made its debut in 2008 at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A US premiere of The Cry is scheduled for 2012 here in Kenosha in collaboration with Southeast Wisconsin Performing Arts, under the direction of Kathryn Peperkorn.

Rebecca is a member of the Kenosha Symphony Orchestra, Festival Arts Chamber Orchestra, Trio Ispirato, and guest artist for the Luci Toscane Music Festival. She is the Minister of Music at Light of Christ Anglican Church in Kenosha. Rebecca resides in Kenosha with her husband and three children.

About Philip Thompson

You can read Phil’s biography here.

About artist Gary Shipman

Gary Shipman is a free-lance professional artist who has worked for Disney Publishing, Image Comics, Caliber Press, Alias Comic and Zondervan. His comic book Pakkins’ Land, co-written with his wife, Rhoda Shipman, was nominated for Harvey, Eisner, and Russ Manning Awards and continues to delight young and old readers alike. Born in California in 1966 Gary has been exploring different art styles for more than 29 years though he never acquired formal art training. His art is collected worldwide through the internet. Gary lives in Illinois with his wife and three children.

About the Dust Project

The Dust Project has just begun! Phil and Rebecca are continuing their collaboration to create Dust Part II and possibly Dust Part III. The concert you hear today is scheduled for further performances over the next year in Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Chicago, Kenosha, and beyond. You can follow Dust’s progress by submitting your name, address and/or email for further updates. A website is currently under development with the title, “The Dust Project”. A recording has been made of today’s performance, and pending sound quality and mixing, a CD may come available. Thank you for being a part of Dust and supporting us with your presence here today!