Feb. 5, the Fine and Performing Arts Department held a master class by composer Lori Laitman. Described by “Fanfare Magazine” as “one of the most talented and intriguing of living composers,” Laitman has composed multiple operas, choral works and over 250 songs, setting texts by classical and contemporary poets.
During the master class, Elizabethtown College students performed four of Laitman’s earlier works. After they sang through the songs one time, Laitman joined the students on stage and coached them on how to improve their performance.
The first song was called “Little Elegy,” with text by Elinor Wylie. Junior Celia Grove was the singer with pianist Rachel Suter. The poem was about how the narrator really enjoys a person’s company and how they were lonely when the person wasn’t around.
“‘Little Elegy’ was written in memory of a friend’s son,” Laitman said.
This background gave more meaning to the song as the audience listened intently to the words.
“I found the experience to be really rewarding,” Grove said. “While I was up on stage, it was a great experience listening to her expertise. [Laitman] is very down to earth, and I really enjoyed that about her. Listening to her talk about her composition technique was also very informational.”
The next song was “Song,” with text by Christina Rossetti. The singer was Meredith Groff with pianist Lucas Finet. This poem was about reassurance to loved ones after the narrator’s death, a remembrance of joy.
The third song was “Plums: 2 This Is Just to Say,” with text by William Carlos Williams, sung by Abigail Marchione with pianist and associate professor of music Dr. Justin Badgerow. This poem is about stealing plums from someone and leaving a little note behind.
The last song performed was “They Might Not Need Me” by Emily Dickinson, sung by Sarah Kreider with Badgerow as pianist. This song was very tango-like and had an upbeat feeling.
“The piano part needed to be more difficult for the original pianist,” Laitman said.
Laitman got her inspiration from her college roommate, Lauren Wagner. Wagner was Laitman’s first singer as she wrote all these different pieces. Coming from a family of musicians, she considers herself very competitive. The first song Laitman ever wrote, “The Metropolitan Tower,” received a review of magnificent.
One of her favorite works is “Vedem,” a Holocaust composition. “Vedem,” which means “in the lead,” was intended to be an educational work, presenting listeners with information regarding the Holocaust.
Another work she created was, “The Scarlet Letter.” The world premiere of this composition was in May 2016. The date was pushed back due to difficulties, so Laitman ended up adding and rewriting a lot of the pieces that were featured like the song, “Hester’s Lullaby.”
“It was interesting to hear the aspect of the composer commenting on her own songs,” senior Sam Wasson said.
Laitman has received numerous prestigious commissions from Opera America, Opera Colorado, Washington Master Chorale, Wolfgang Holzmair and Music of Remembrance.
Along with writing operas based on poems, she has also written for some films. She enjoys writing her operas more then film writing, though. She uses poems as inspiration for her operas; these help ground her lyrics.
Using the poems really brings out the lyrics more for the singers and gives them a way to better understand what they are singing about. This gives students a way to also access the acting part behind the song, the emotion, the need to get the audience into it.
Her latest commission is from the Howard Institute for American Music at the Eastman School of Music and the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership, for a chamber work celebrating the 100th anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote in New York State. The premiere is scheduled for Mar. 5, 2017.