The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 25, 2003


Concert features local composer
Kate Stevens (right) and her mother Priscilla (photo by Cynthia Sorn)

"A single flow'r he sent to me
since we met."

So begins A Perfect Rose, a lament over not receiving "the perfect limousine" - the third piece in Kate Stevens' collection of three Dorothy Parker poems she set to music. Kate is the daughter of Priscilla and Jonathan Stevens of Maple Street. Priscilla, a member of the Concord Madrigals (a women's choral group), is thrilled that Kate's pieces, Three Poems by Dorothy Parker, will premiere at the Concord Madrigals spring concert on Sunday, May 4 at 4 p.m., at the West Concord Union Church. The spring concert is a celebration of women's music; except for four madrigals, all pieces were composed by women. The repertoire for this concert was an outgrowth of continuing support for woman composers by the Concord Madrigals, a group of forty women who regularly perform classical, contemporary and newly composed music in the greater Boston area under the direction of Jane Ring Frank. "I'm underwhelmed" by the musical choices specifically written for women's voices, explained Frank, whose other positions include being a resident scholar in the Brandeis University Women's Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham. She noted that woman tend to write eco-spiritual music, blending nature with thoughts of God, politics, or emotions. Women composers are not getting published, she said, and it's surprising how difficult it is to acquire scores by well-known women; often they are out of print. Performing Stevens' music gives the Concord Madrigals an opportunity to grow by singing contemporary pieces written specifically for women's voices, concluded Frank. Kate, speaking about her experience in working with the choral group, is excited to work with Frank. "Jane does such a nice job of interpreting pieces and making them unique," she said.

Musical experience

Piano was the start of Stevens' formal music training. "She started at age eight. I never had to ask her to practice," said Priscilla, a writer for the Carlisle Mosquito. "She was always interested in music." Kate began her composing career when she was nine, presenting a collection of songs to her mother for Mother's Day. When Kate was 11 Priscilla and Jonathan had to decide whether or not to go the "concert route": to have her piano lessons focus on professional concert training. "I wanted her to have a life," said Priscilla, referring to the hours of lessons and practicing required to be a professional pianist. Priscilla's musical encouragement, balanced with allowing Kate to find her own path, gave Kate guidance and freedom at the same time.

Kate attended Middlebury College in Vermont, where she majored in Music (composition), and also majored in English (poetry), her second love. She teaches general music and directs the middle school choruses in Merrimack, New Hampshire. "I'm a big fan of Dorothy Parker: her poetry is lyrical," with rhythms that adapt well to music, Kate said.

First rehearsal

At a long-anticipated visit to a Madrigals rehearsal, Kate was visibly relaxed and enjoyed her first chance to hear her music sung. In response to Frank's questions about the dynamics of Kate's second piece, The Red Dress, a torchsong dedicated to the dream of owning "a gown of reddest red," Kate suggested the women sing a particular section softer. "I work with young voices and I have to ask them to be louder," she said, laughing, and said she found it a pleasure to hear the women's strong, mature voices. After rehearsing Kate's first piece, Unfortunate Coincidence, which sagely warns women to note that swearing "undying love" is suspect, Kate told the group that "Overall it is absolutely beautiful, really resonates. The sound makes the words have more meaning, and your tempo is perfect."

A call for composers

The Concord Madrigals is sponsoring a Composition Competition, which is open to any female composer who is a U.S. citizen residing in Massachusetts. The piece must be original, written for women's voices, and never performed. The deadline is June 2, 2003. The winner receives a $500 cash prize and the Concord Madrigals will perform her work at the December 2003 concert. Interested composers can call Priscilla Stevens at 1-978-371-7282. "The most important thing we can do is give opportunities to let women's works come to life," Frank said.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito