Meet the 2002 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year. (Composer Commissioning)

Article excerpt

   To make a prairie it takes a clover
   and one bee,--
   One clover, and a bee,
   And revery.
   The revery alone will do
   If bees are few.

   --Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Timothy Hoekman used these lines from the Emily Dickinson poem as the first song in his new song cycle, To Make a Prairie, earning his designation as the 2002 MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year. The song cycle consists of four Emily Dickinson texts and was performed at the MTNA National Conference in Salt Lake City by the composer at the piano and his wife, Carla Connors, soprano.

I talked with Hoekman about his piece and his career. He has been on the faculty at Florida State University since 1984, where he is professor of vocal coaching and accompanying. He has composed extensively for voice. Hoekman's compositions include four sets of songs published by Recital Publications: Seven Houseman Songs, American Lyrics, The Nash Menagerie and Bless This New Marriage: Three Wedding Songs. He also has composed a one-act opera titled Princess Gray Goose; Margarets: Two Songs for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano and Piano; Then Swims Up the Great Round Moon (a song cycle for vocal quartet and piano) and Harlem Night Songs for SATB chorus.

Hoekman holds a bachelor of arts degree from Calvin College, a master of music degree from Peabody Conservatory of Music and a doctoral degree in piano performance from the University of Michigan. He started composing in graduate school in 1979, initially concentrating on solo songs and one choral piece. Much of his motivation for his compositional ideas comes from the text selected as the basis for the lyrics.

I asked him to describe To Make a Prairie and how the texts were chosen.

"I settled on the prairie/nature theme for these songs in order to reflect, as least in part, the fact that their creation came out of a South Dakota Music Teachers Association commission. I wanted poetry that would reflect the large expanse of land, the vast sky, the winters and the importance of all things natural in the primarily rural environment of South Dakota.

Although Emily Dickinson never visited South Dakota--or any prairie--she certainly wrote many poems about nature. The first poem I chose, 'To Make a Prairie,' seemed a perfect way to begin. …