Jennifer Margaret Barker's New CD Geenyoch

      Hats off to Jennifer Barker for being able to bring her compositions to a wider audience on CD and now DVD. In 2000 her first CD Nyvaigs (CRI CD 862) was published while she was teaching at Christopher Newport University. The title, meaning little ships, refers to the vessels the Scots used to defeat the Vikings. In 2000 I met her when she was guest composer at the Norfolk Art Song Society program 21st Century Living Composers organized by Lorraine Bell. We have enjoyed the first CD Nyvaigs for five years now and were excited at the prospect of her second CD with DVD included. Shortly after we met she joined the music faculty of the University of Delaware but has returned to Tidewater for performances several times since moving.

      The title track Geenyoch Ballant (ravenous or insatiable ballad) for solo piano features Kevin Robert Orr at the piano in a piece written for the 2003 American Liszt Society Conference. Dr. Barker, who trained as a pianist before she found composition as the chief expression of he creativity, has said that in the piece she pays homage to the great piano masterpieces of the nineteenth century by creating a piece that fits the hand in a traditional manner. The title is from the 800 year old Scots language as are other titles. She came from Scotland to the United States in 1987 but as she writes, "she remains active as a Scottish composer on both sides of the Atlantic."

      Her music is listener friendly and contemporary in that it uses a familiar musical language in exploratory combinations of instrumentation with sung and spoken poetry and a wide array of percussion.

      The song cycle Tout Entiere (2001), was commissioned by our friend, baritone Tod Fitzpatrick, as a tenth anniversary gift for his wife Elaine. The piece opens with a reading of the two poems written by Charles-Pierre Beaudelaire in English translation, followed by Mr. Fitzpatrick singing in French, accompanied by the composer on piano. On the bonus DVD we see the Fitzpatricks in a lovely natural setting with their infant son, born after the piece was composed. Scenes of a ballerina, who resembles Elaine, are intercut with scenes of the Fitzpatricks, including the beautiful roly-poly baby boy and Tod in a recital setting.

      In Geodha (1992, 1998) the Scottish countryside is intercut with the string trio and timpanist in performance. The melody comes from the work's earlier incarnation on Ms. Barker's first CD and is the setting for Geodha air chųl na grčine written and read by the renowned Scottish poet Derick S. Thomson. On the earlier CD the poem is sung by the Gaelic soloist Eilidh Mackenzie with Mark Reimer of CNU conducting the chamber group. The poetry has a peaceful, mournful feeling. This new instrumental version uses a musical language that reminds me of Alban Berg at his best.

      The song cycle for soprano, violin, viola, violoncello and percussion, Two Poems: The House Was Quiet and Circular, was sung by Martha Elliott and is on the Geenyoch CD only, not the DVD. The poetry by Stephen Dunn (from local Visitation, 2003, W.W. Norton & Co.) is about the complexities of a couple's communication, concluding "how we saw it was how it was." The music winds in and out accompanying the text at times, enhancing the meaning at others.

      The final tracks are Na ATrė Peathraichean (The Three Sisters of Glencoe), commissioned by former Virginia Symphony flautist Laurie Baefsky. The sisters are in reality three breath-taking mountains. Seen on the DVD with Ms. Baefsky sitting on rocks in the river that winds through the mountains is very effective. The music creates a sense of wind whistling through crevices and ferns and ends with water flowing over rocks in the stream. The last two movements, found only on the CD, extend this tribute to the wild beauty of nature, the magnificence of the mountains.


      My favorite piece on both CDs is the title song on Ms Barker's first CD. It opens with a low ambient percussive rumble joined by very soft piano, then flute, later saxophone and a reading of poetry by James Macferson, Naigh Baegs / Nyvaigs narrated by J. Craig Barker. As the musical piece unfolds the sound of the soprano voice of Kay Krekow is very effectively treated as an instrument among other instruments. The reader returns to give us a second verse as the piece ends. The musical landscape reminds me of George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children. I hope that someday soon Old Dominion University's contemporary music ensemble Creo will do a live performance of Nyvaigs.

      Earthtones for violin (Jorge Aguirre) and marinba (Scott Jackson) composed in rather strict form is fresh and whimsical with an unbridled improvisational feeling. The Enchanted Glen is an instrumental duet for clarinet (Melanie Richards) and piano (Ms. Barker) written "to encourage children's imagination of fairies, goblins, castles and magical landscapes" to quote the composer.

      Blue Waters is a meditative piece played on vibraphone by Heather Corbett, who commissioned the piece. Exploring the relationship of the Scots to water, the calm spiritual elements of nature is musically explored.

      Three Highbrows We (1966) is written for female vocalist and sung here by Susan Arnold, Dianne Barton, Lisa Relaford Coston, Kathleen Franz, Kimberly D. Lee, Patricia Ricciarelli, Karen Scott (now Hoy) and Tiffany Temple in a tremendously witty text and with music to match. The farcical text by English poet Herbert Farjeon makes the point that our ladies snub the classics while expressing heartfelt passion for Mickey Mouse. In Nobody Told Me the music is reminiscent of swing bands of the 1940s and demand from the singers extremes in range, technique and style. The soloists Angela M. Casar, Kay Krekow and Billye Brown Youmans and the chorus are up to the task. I highly recommend both CDs but Geenyoch will please the less musically adventurous listener most. Geenyoch can be ordered from meyer-media.com Nyvaigs can be ordered directly from the composer for $12. Email her at Palmer-Barker@comcast.net

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