Archive for July, 2017

Guanyin of the Southern Sea - Nelson Atkins Museum 2Kerwin Young composes Guanyin of the Southern Sea, a fantasy for guzheng, women’s chorus, and orchestra. Young is no stranger to Chinese instruments, having composed solo works for zheng, as well as suites for pipa, erhu, and guqin. His work has been performed by Music From China, and he’s also been honored by the Chinese Music Society of North America. A student of Chen Yi and Zhou Long while at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, Kerwin made plans for the current work in 2012; though it has taken quite awhile to begin working on it.

Historically, Guanyin is revered as a goddess of mercy, compassion, and kindness, and a guide for those who travel the sea. She also represents purity, harmony, and peace.

When asked what inspired the work, Kerwin responded with the following:

My mom and I, while visiting Savannah, Georgia, sometime during 2005-06, heard this beautiful instrument resonating along the waterfront. I stepped away from my mom and walked toward the sound I was hearing. From a distance, I noticed a canopy, and underneath saw an old man in a white tee-shirt playing a long, table top zither. At the end of the song, I approached the elder musician and asked what the instrument was, and how it was tuned. I learned that it was the guzheng, and that he was from China. I’d never heard anything quite like it before, and since then have been drawn to its warm sound. I collected the notes I received that day, and eventually added to them while studying at UMKC.

While in college, I befriended quite a few zheng players; many who were invited guests of Chen Yi and Zhou Long. I studied with Chen Yi from 2009-2015, and really absorbed quite a lot. I composed three solo works for zheng, and in 2012, had a successful premiere of I Walk Alone at the Nelson-Adkins Museum in Kansas City, Mo. At the time of the premiere, the Nelson-Adkins Museum had on display, a giant, life-sized statue of a Guan-yin (see the photo above). I was awed, and began fantasizing about a prospected work for zheng and orchestra.

Kerwin originally intended for this work to include two full-sized orchestras; one Chinese, and the other western. That idea, although a great one, was significantly chopped down as Kerwin began to flesh out some of the orchestration for his thematic ideas.

He did retain some Chinese instruments within the work, and those are the yangqin, yunluo, diyin daluo (better known as the tam-tam), xiaogu, and huapengu.

Both the brass and percussion sections are heavily stacked. The sopranos and altos, being the core of the women’s chorus, add a wealth of sonic flavor. Kerwin explained how his choice of instrumentation is necessary for telling a variety of stories within the overall work. He says, “On one hand, you’ve got the main subject of the Guan-yin representing her basic descriptives/attributes, and on the other hand, the mythology amongst cultures from Southern India to Japan; which open up new doors for my artistic expression.

2017 has been quite busy for Kerwin, who since January, has composed three major orchestral works: Symphony No. 5, Season of Autocracy, and Bolivar, totaling approximately one hour and ten minutes worth of music. Kerwin expects to complete Guanyin of the Southern Sea by late October 2017.

 

Ka’ness M’dolothongo – Author, Biographer

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One of our era’s brightest composers of prolific orchestral works, Kerwin Young again puts the pencil to the paper for his third orchestral work in 2017. On the heels of Symphony No. 5 and Season of Autocracy, there are no signs of Kerwin slowing down anytime soon. His new work, Bolívar, is well underway; with an expected completion in September.

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A short orchestral work inspired by the life of Simón Bolívar, Bolívar, when completed, will serve as a grand prelude or overture to Kerwin’s collected orchestral works. When asked why the sudden outpour of creativity has his attention, Kerwin replied,

“I’ve always composed mass amounts of music concurrently. Always! No one’s been paying attention to my career. While no one is commissioning me to compose new works, it should be noted that none of my orchestral works have yet to be performed. I refuse to allow any of these to deter my passion. Besides, I enjoy telling stories through music, and I’m taking advantage of what time I’ve got, as I await to acquire film scoring opportunities for feature films.”

Kerwin, who composes an average of two to four minutes of music daily is proud of this capability. Though it may seem rather small, I assure you it is quite the opposite. Kerwin admitted that prior to composing in this fashion had shown a lack of self-trust, and had a constant battle between what he wanted and what has been accepted as standard. Once he abandoned from the traditional path, his own way was made clear.

I’ve totally dismissed anyone’s view of how things should be done musically. I’ve got my own way. When I’m composing a new work, I’m free from having to accommodate the personal wishes of a film producer, director, featured performer, or commissioning party.  I can let loose and really dig into what I want to say musically, and I also have the freedom of choosing any instrumentation I want. I don’t really care if these works ever get performed, but I will make certain to compose and orchestrate my works according to my tastes. And, these works will have a life of their own because of it. Screw any adherence to any standard instrumentation. If you’re a composer, and you hear the most odd; yet unique instrumentation for the work you’re writing, you ought to follow along with that notion. To ignore oneself is slavery, because that is a sure sign that you are governed by an outer force. When you don’t trust yourself, that right there is a problem. There can be no true self expression; no freedom of expression with such limitations. You cannot be afraid. Write! Compose! Create!

Big salute to Kerwin as he continues his work, and by the way, he’s got eight orchestral works to follow. Among the slated eight are two opera’s, another symphony, two suites, an orchestral fantasy, and two dramatic shorts.

 

Ka’ness M’dolothongo – Author, Biographer