Music and Poetry

MSU student composers set words of local poets to music.

Left to Right: Mark Bayshore, host of Current State on WKAR, interviews graduate student Phillip Rice and Cindy Hunter Morgan from MSU’s Department of English. Photo courtesy Scott Pohl, WKAR.
Phillip Rice, College of Music graduate student is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts in composition and a Master of Music in theory pedagogy.

Plenty of musicians have drawn inspiration from famous poems. But chances are, most of those musicians have never actually talked to the writers or poets who penned the inspirational piece.

A new collaboration between the MSU College of Music and the MSU Center for Poetry gave musicians a chance to chat and interact with their poetic muses. During Spring Semester 2015, a half-dozen students in the composition area paired off with local poets to create original "scores" or compositions based on the poems. A few weeks later, the composer-poet pairs showcased their merged pieces through an evening performance on the MSU campus.

“Voicing Poetry” was organized by Philip Rice, an MSU doctoral student in composition, in cooperation with Cindy Hunter Morgan, who teaches creative writing in the MSU Department of English. Rice says he originally got the idea for the inter-departmental collaboration from a weekend program he attended at the Vancouver International Song Institute. When he got back to Michigan, he decided to try a similar program, but to stretch it out over a semester so poets and composers could become acquainted with each other’s vision and artistic style.

“You also get the opportunity to ask ‘what does this mean’?” Rice laughed.

Six composition students joined with six poets for the inaugural program that may continue in the upcoming year. While composers selected poems and set them to music, Hunter Morgan says she would welcome doing the collaboration in reverse: with poets writing poems based on original musical compositions.

Hear clips of compositions created from “Voicing Poetry” from the Current State broadcast or visit Rice’s in-depth journal article on the project here.

Source: Current State, broadcast February 9, 2015. 

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