Joshua Harris is a composer whose music is grounded in a fascination with visual art, textures, sound spectra, and non-linear narratives. He is heavily influenced by studio techniques of electroacoustic composers. In honor of the grand opening of the Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center in Virginia Beach, Harris composed “There will be stars over this place forever.”
- You'll note along the wall here,
that is the lobby and gallery space.
Along this wall, between the two main doors,
allowing for very public exhibition and project
that you can actually see from Wesleyan Drive.
- As a liberal arts institution,
it's appropriate that we now have an iconic structure,
as you come onto the campus.
- A good Fine and Performing Arts Center,
it's a front porch to engage the community directly
with the amazing things
that have always been happening on this campus.
- This is acoustically balanced for a large loft
above the actual audience,
so that the sound will dissipate above the audience's head,
instead of reverberating constantly on top of them.
- Extreme amounts of thought went into
expanding the student experience,
because they will spend more time in that building
than they will in their homes
for the next four years of their lives.
- You have this gigantic stage, but at the same time
the furthest back you're ever going to be is 40 or 50 feet.
It's fantastically intimate.
We can bring in world class artists,
Broadway level productions.
That's something that's gonna make the space
really unique in the future.
- So this work, of course,
was a surprise commission from Mr. Goode,
and you all know his wife
and for the inauguration of the new
Virginia Wesleyan Performing Arts Center.
So what kind of information were you given
when you got the commission?
Were there sort of specific requests of things
about the piece, or was it pretty open ended?
- It was really open ended.
Mr. Goode asked for it to be choir and orchestra,
and he chose the text.
One is a except from a very long Wordsworth epic.
And then the second one is There Will Be Stars
by Sarah Teasdale.
Early 2018, Bryson Mortenson who does the choir
at Virginia Wesleyan University,
and he had seen a choral piece I'd just finished
and he reached out to me
and said he was looking to commission a new piece.
When everything got finalized,
I asked if I could come out to Virginia Wesleyan.
I knew that since a place was really important
in the design and in the structure of this piece,
I spent a few days observing the choir,
working with Bryson, walking around campus,
walking through the woods, there's a beautiful trail.
Since the lyrics talked about stars over the place,
I just went on Google and I looked up March 30, 2019
at which stars would be the brightest over Virginia Beach.
I recalled that in medieval times,
music was often thought of as a set of ratios
and they talked about the harmony of the spheres
and the relationships between celestial bodies
and so I looked up some of these ratios
between the orbits of Venus and Earth
and the sun and Jupiter.
Those began to inform choices that I was gonna make
about form, how long different sections were going to be.
But also about harmony.
- What I think is really interesting about Josh's music
is that it's something we'd really classify as avant garde.
So he's taking instruments, but asking them to play
a lot of times in really unconventional ways.
- I spent a lot of time thinking about
how do I get different groups to sing
independently of one another.
It's not the sort of thing that,
especially large ensembles like this,
may be used to performing.
- Ready to try it?
(man plays piano)
Particularly in classical music,
we tend to get stuck on the idea
that the only music of value is the music by dead composers.
And it's so important to realize
that there are composers alive today
who are making music that respond to the issues of today.
That respond to the zeitgeist.
And one of the best ways to really drive that home
for student musicians is to put them face to face
with a composer.
- I have a comment. - Okay.
- When we're singing the second half,
when I close my eyes,
and we're singing about the stars,
I see Mrs. Woode and her husband as the two stars.
And then I see them on Earth
and there's like stars surrounding them
and that's all they see.
That's what I'm feeling.
And I've never had a song that made me feel that way
and it just makes me feel like one day,
maybe I can have love like that.
- (laughs) Can I give you a hug?
That was awesome.
- I've never thought about that.
- Not all the music that I compose is beautiful by design,
but I wanted this to be comfortable and optimistic.
I wanted it to line up with what I believe the community
here at Wesleyan feels about the future
of this Performing Arts Center
and the future of the Performing Arts Programs,
and the future of the University.
(intense choral music)
♪ Every time the Earth circles our orbit ♪
- I think one of the things that makes the writing style
really unique is that you expect
all of the performers to be independent at different times.
And a lot of the time in choral music,
we're looking for unity,
we're looking for a homogenous kinda sound.
And a lot of the times, he says,
"I'm not gonna tell you how or when or what to sing here,
"but you need to sing something that kinda looks like this.
"And we're just gonna experiment
"and we're gonna see how that comes together."
So that's a lot of why I picked him,
because I knew this was gonna give them an experience
that we couldn't get with any other composer
out there right now.
(intense choral music)
- In the Hampton Roads area,
there's a lot of cool stuff going on.
This is an exciting place,
and I hope I can work here more often.
♪ Songs ♪
♪ Forever ♪
♪ Songs ♪
(intense choral music)