Adams State's SLV Cultural Commissions to be premiered at CMEA convention


The San Luis Valley's unique beauty and distinctive cultures have long inspired creativity in various genres. Music is the medium for a set of seven new original pieces commissioned by the Adams State University Music Department as part of the SLV Cultural Commissions Project. Internationally renowned composer Dr. Jack Stamp will conduct the Adams State Winds & Percussion Ensemble when it performs his piece San Luis Snapshots at the convention of the Colorado Music Educators Association (CMEA), to be held January 26 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Several hundred music educators from K-12 schools, colleges, and universities across the state will be in attendance.

The ensemble will also perform works by composers David J. Pierce and Dr. Jennifer K. Bellor, as well as three current students and one alumna of the Music Department. The commissions were supported by contributions from Adams State's Title V Office, the Sangre de Cristo Heritage Area, and the Alamosa Live Music Association (ALMA). Title V awards federal grants to Hispanic Serving Institutions like Adams State, which has an undergraduate student population that is 36% Hispanic.

Adams State Winds & Percussion Ensemble, conducted by Dr. Angela Winter.

The San Luis Valley Cultural Commission Project grew out of the Music Department's ETHOS: Exploring Equity through Music. It is an overarching, multi-year project addressing equity and diversity issues in the programming of music ensembles and the development of new curricula. "This performance will consist of works commissioned specifically for our ensemble that reflect the heritage, culture, and geography of the San Luis Valley," noted Dr. Beth Robison, department chair, professor, and director of choral activities. "The nature and construction of these pieces will also provide educational and performance opportunities for underserved populations and music programs."

Robison said the project will serve multiple purposes:

  • Create unique educational and service/integrated learning experiences.
  • Provide professional development and diversity awareness for students and faculty.
  • Promote and recruit students while celebrating and educating others about the diversity and culture of the San Luis Valley through music.

Unique soundscapes

Each of the seven SLV Cultural Commissions takes a different tack in celebrating the culture and soundscape of the San Luis Valley. Stamp's piece, for solo horn and wind ensemble, was inspired by a collection of photos that reflected many moods, with varied times of day and seasons. "One photo made the valley look almost like a lunar landscape, and that is reflected in the introduction. The fast section represents the great expanse of the area and the freedom of nature. The waltz reflects the simple beauty of the valley with its various grasses and wildflowers. The hymn-like horn chorale is a nod to the Shrine of the Stations of the Cross," Stamp said. He composed the piece for Adams State Director of Bands Dr. Angela Winter on French horn with the Winds & Percussion Ensemble.

"Dr. Stamp was very generous with his time and very interested in the project. He was willing to do his composition at a fraction of his usual fee. We are thrilled he is willing to come and work with our students and conduct his piece at the conference," Robison said.

Stamp is an internationally recognized composer of wind band music. He was the founder/conductor of the Keystone Wind Ensemble, dedicated to recording forgotten band literature. He teaches conducting and composition at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He previously spent 25 years as director of Band Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which named him Distinguished University Professor. He holds a DMA degree in Wind Conducting from Michigan State University.

Bellor's piece Querencia derives from the Spanish verb meaning "to desire" and is used to describe a place where one feels safe and at home. Bellor dedicated the composition to Adams State's Title V Office. Assistant professor of music Dr. James Doyle solos on vibraphone for the work.

Bellor is a versatile composer whose works blend contemporary jazz, classical, and rock styles. Her works have been performed by national and international organizations and have garnered prestigious awards. She holds a Ph.D. in music composition from Eastman School of Music and teaches music composition and theory at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

A native of South Texas, Pierce drew on his family's Hispanic and ranching heritage for the composition El Ranchero, which depicts the life of a rancher. "In this rancher's world I see the San Luis Valley. I see the scrub grass and chico brush, the sand dunes and the mountains, and imagine this rancher working from sunup to sundown, with the land's intense and harsh beauty as his backdrop. While the main theme is a melancholy one, it is contrasted by the happier, livelier sections... hard work with "hard" play." The piece will be performed with the Madera Wind Quintent, which includes Winter, and will be conducted by Robison.

Pierce writes and arranges for numerous ensembles of varied styles, and his works have been performed by orchestras, jazz groups, and symphonic bands across the country. He has had works commissioned by professional touring and recording jazz bands, such as the Jazz Ambassadors. Pierce teams up with everyone from big band entertainers to Indie Rock icons. Previously a school band teacher, he helped develop an award-winning jazz program at Southlake Carroll ISD.

The Madera Wind Quintet consists of Jorge Cruz, Jr., bassoon; Jason Paschall, oboe; Amy Thiemann, flute; Angela Winter, horn; and Rachel Yoder, clarinet. Exploring the fringes of the quintet repertoire - new music, forgotten gems, original arrangements and music for children - Madera also engages audiences with the classic repertoire and beauty of the wind quintet sonority. Educational outreach is also important to Madera, whose work includes workshops and clinics for students of all ages. The group recorded El Ranchero this past November at Adams State University, where they spent a week in residence presenting masterclasses, chamber music coachings, private lessons, and educational workshops in area schools.

Geography and culture inform compositions

Adams State alumna Chelsea Oden was inspired to write A World in this Grain of Sand by three geological processes that formed the San Luis Valley. Odon earned a B.A. in music with a composition emphasis in 2013 and is now a graduate teaching fellow and doctoral candidate in music theory at the University of Oregon. She studies interdisciplinary approaches to film music analysis, as well as the interdisciplinary nature of musical art forms. She also plays clarinet in several ensembles.

Graduate student John Brindle composed Valle Viejo, an overture-style piece in five main sections that represent the experiences of the valley's Native Americans and of Spanish and Mexican settlers. "The closing section represents the Renewal of both the spirit and lives of the people, as well as a rekindling of the sense of honor and beauty of this unique landscape," Brindle explained. A teacher at the largest middle school in Colorado who has taught a variety of musical disciplines, Brindle will complete his M.A. in music education this spring.

Adams State undergraduates Brandi Quinn and Ryan Watters both took inspiration from the valley's Mt. Blanca, which is Colorado's fifth highest mountain at 14,344 feet. Quinn's work, Sisnaajini, Dawn Mountain, refers to the Diné (Navajo) name for the peak, which marks the eastern border of their homeland. "The legend says that the Holy people traveled to the mountain by rainbow and sunbeams to decorate it," Quinn explained. She has a triple major in music composition, trumpet performance, and music education. She is also involved in a number of musical ensembles, often serving as principal trumpet.

With a double major in geology and chemistry, Watters also has an intense love of music; his primary instrument is the saxophone. His composition Montaña Blanca portrays "the diversity and cultural mixing present at the roots of the beautiful mountain resting at the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley."

By Julie Waechter