‘Biomes’: Diversifying the Classical Music Ecosystem

Original article published on Sharps & Flatirons here.

A biome is a large area characterized by its vegetation, soil, climate, and wildlife. There are five major types of biomes: aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, and tundra, though some of these biomes can be further divided into more specific categories, such as freshwater, marine, savanna, tropical rainforest, temperate rainforest, and taiga.

—National Geographic Society

Biomes need ecological diversity to thrive. Diversity makes them more healthy, stable and resilient in the long term. 

Likewise, the classical music biome needs diversity to flourish. Traditionally, it has been a fragile, old-fashioned ecosystem; however, in the last year, the biome has been revitalized, as entrepreneurial musicians have responded to social justice movements and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Jordan Holloway

One such diversifier is Jordan Holloway, a CU-Boulder senior. In March of 2020, he founded the Dad Village Symphony Orchestra (DVSO), an ensemble of more than 40 musicians from several colleges that performs new and underrepresented repertoire virtually. 

The DVSO’s second virtual concert, “Biomes,” set to premiere at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 17, will include nature-themed works by J. Jay Berthume, Lili Boulanger, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Holloway. These works have been re-orchestrated for the DVSO by six contemporary composers, including senior Margaret Friesen and alum Brian Lambert.

“I want to bring underrepresented music in a creative way to new audiences,” Holloway says. “I want to take all of the stupid stuff with classical music and leave it at the door. This is a much easier way to do that than in person.”

The DVSO began as a one-off project for Holloway to premiere his Symphony No. 1, The Patriot, a musical protest against America’s racial and social injustice. However, as the DVSO community grew, he felt compelled to continue the project. 

“For the first project, I cast as wide a net as I was individually capable of,” Holloway says. “Then the community continued to grow way beyond what I could do myself.”

Grace Stringfellow

Holloway decided to bring in two collaborators, senior Grace Stringfellow and CU-Boulder alum Anoushka Divekar, to help manage and promote the DVSO. Together, they decided to expand the DVSO’s mission to performing diverse repertoire, as well as new music, to contribute to increased musical equity and inclusion for underrepresented communities.

“Last summer was an awakening moment for me,” Divekar says. “I think I was musically aware before but not as socially aware.”

For “Biomes,” Holloway decided to program works from two diverse composers of the early 20th century: Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912), a British Black composer, and Boulanger (1893–1918), the sister of renowned composition teacher Nadia Boulanger and the first woman to win the Prix de Rome composition prize in 1913. Holloway chose two of their nature-themed works that are notable for their high level of energy.

Anoushka Diveka

Coleridge-Taylor’s Forest Scenes has an expressive style and depicts a mysterious love story between a lone forest maiden and her phantom lover. Boulanger’s Trois morceaux pour piano (Three pieces for piano), depicts two contemplative garden scenes and a funeral procession. Both works, originally for solo piano, have been reorchestrated for the DVSO by several different composers, each taking on individual movements.

“There is this constant power driving through all of (the program)—this energy inherent in nature that we can step back and observe,” Divekar says. 

Shifting to new repertoire, Holloway chose Berthume’s Wind in the Wood, a contemporary work for woodwind octet, to continue the theme of terrestrial biomes. The octet, which features flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, depicts a windy forest with an upbeat feeling and dynamic textures.

For a brief aquatic interlude, Holloway also included his recent composition, Oceanic Scherzo. Like Holloway’s other compositions, the scherzo features musical imagery and colorful harmonies, influenced by Romantic-era French composers including Debussy and Boulanger.

“I like to write about the ocean (using) aquatic sounds,” Holloway says. “This scherzo has big wave and sea spray vibes. It sounds very jagged, fast and compound.”

“The depth and layers of the ocean are portrayed very well, especially with the brass,” Stringfellow adds. 

In addition to connecting with nature, “Biomes” has fostered human connections within the orchestra and beyond with their wider, virtual audience, which has been an impactful experience for orchestra members during COVID-19. 

“(During the pandemic), I was feeling very musically unfulfilled and unmotivated,” Divekar says. “I felt I had lost music making. But with this (project), I felt like I was playing with an orchestra again. It has been super musically fulfilling.”

“I am very proud to say I was a part of this,” Stringfellow adds. 

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Lili Boulanger

Dad Village Symphony Orchestra

  • J. Jay Berthume: Wind in the Wood
  • Lili Boulanger: Trois morceaux pour piano
  • Jordan Holloway: Oceanic Scherzo
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Forest Scenes

YouTube premiere at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 17

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