A&E: Symphonic Revival

For centuries people have enjoyed classical music. Mozart, Beethoven and Bach are household names from the past. Today, Oklahoma is turning out a new kind of orchestra that may redefine and revive interest in the symphonic experience.

Spirit Symphony debuted last month at the First Christian Church in Edmond. Callen Clarke, a composer with the UCO Chamber Orchestra, and violin soloist, Kyle Dillingham inspired the audience at the premier which celebrated UCO’s second anniversary for the Centre for Global Competency.

The symphony blends ancient Arabic, Jewish and modern Western classical music together for a very different presentation. Unlike a typical orchestra’s sound, the composition is innovative because it allows musicians to improvise. Instrument players who rigidly follow notes are invited to become spirited performers and bring unique creativity to the performance.

Dillingham says the symphony tells a story. “Callen always told me, ‘symphonic music is narrative, like a novel without words.’ It has rises and falls, climaxes. What we want to do is let people experience music in a new way by inviting them to hear a story.”

Clarke’s fascination with ancient sounds changed the course of his music career. While on tour of the Holy Land, Clarke discovered Middle Eastern instruments in Jerusalem when he saw a Palestinian playing the oud (pronounced al-oud), a pear shaped stringed instrument.

“The first time I heard the oud it changed my life forever. Here was 2,000 years of musical heritage I was completely ignorant of and it floored me,” said Clarke. He went on to discover that Arabic music is the same music played by the ancient Hebrew culture.

With a passion to bring the old sounds of the Middle-East to new life, Clarke quickly mastered the oud and created his first CD, Verse in 2003. His Spirit Symphony merges the improvisation element of Middle Eastern music to classical orchestra for an unusual twist.

“I’ve written sections in the piece where the orchestra improvises within a controlled context,” says Clarke. “I’ll give the violinists a chord, three or four notes and say, ‘now play these notes randomly, however you want and don’t play it like your stand partner.’ I want everyone to do it differently so you get this mass of sound. This challenges them to get away from the notes on the page and think as performers.”

Improvisation is music to Kyle Dillingham’s ears. The world-renowned violin soloist can play virtually any genre of music and says he struggled in college with the confines of classical music. “My initial inspiration for the violin was western swing. All the music I first learned was by ear and requires improvisation, it has to be your strength.”

Dillingham is UCO’s Ambassador in Residence and works closely with the Centre for Global Competency program, headed by Dr. Dennis Dunham. The two travel together promoting international education for the state of Oklahoma. “Dennis always wanted music to be the key component of the CGC because music brings people together,” said Dillingham.

“When we go overseas to promote connections and we use Kyle’s musical performance to bring people together, it gets people excited, energized and connects the audience. It breaks the ice,” said Dunham.

While both men are increasingly popular for their work, they intend to remain in Oklahoma. “We want this to be birthed and grown here,” said Dillingham. “It’s ‘Oklahoma’ symphonic music.” They hope to see a symphonic revival and inspire Oklahomans to new creative heights.

For more information or to view a schedule of performances, visit www.horseshoeroad.net

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