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Title:Composing community: social practice composition and the performance of community in choral works by Reena Esmail, Julia Wolfe, and David Lang
Author(s):Murray, Patrick John
Director of Research:Silvers, Michael
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Megill, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Barrett, Janet R; Lund, Erik
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
social practice
new music
Reena Esmail
David Lang
Julia Wolfe
Urban Voices Project
Street Symphony
Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia
Illinois Humanities
Chicago Humanities Festival
Abstract:This dissertation is an ethnomusicological study within the field of choral conducting of how an ideal of community-building, central to the practice of Western classical choral music, shaped the creation and performance of three recent choral works by American composers: Reena Esmail’s Take What You Need (2016), Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields (2014), and David Lang’s crowd out (2014). Drawing from literature on “social practice” in art criticism and performance studies (Jackson 2011; Bishop 2012; Courage 2017), I introduce the related term social practice composition to characterize the style in which the co-creators of these works rendered “community” visible in musical performance: through the configuration of social relations between performers and participants in sound and on stage as an integral part of the compositional artwork itself. I treat premiere performances of Esmail’s, Wolfe’s, and Lang’s works as individual case studies in social practice composition, following an ethnography of musical performance approach (Madrid 2009; Buchanan 2016). In each case, I argue that the specific ways that the composer and their collaborators brought individuals and communities into relation with one another through musical performance point toward distinct meanings of community present in the choral field: for Reena Esmail and her collaborators in Skid Row, Los Angeles on Take What You Need, community as a site of personal and social healing (Koen, Barz, and Brummel-Smith 2008; Stige 2016); for Julia Wolfe and her collaborators in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Anthracite Fields, community as an expression of cultural authenticity (Muller 2002); and for David Lang and organizers in Chicago, Illinois on the 2017 performance of crowd out, community as a source of social capital (Putnam 2000). Taken together, these studies point towards ways that professionals and amateurs in the field of Western classical choral music in the United States today put ideas about community to use and demonstrate how choir becomes a site where musicians and community members alike imagine, contest, negotiate and maintain contemporary meanings of community. As a dissertation in choral practice, I use ethnomusicological methods to offer a critical reflection on the aesthetics, participatory strategies, and professional responsibilities of musical artists working in the choral medium who employ social practice composition as a form of community engagement, in order to encourage the theorization and growth of this working method in the fields of composition and choral music.
Issue Date:2021-04-09
Rights Information:Copyright 2021 by Patrick Murray.
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-09-17
Date Deposited:2021-05

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