November 5, 2019

‘Nebraska Songbook’ to explore state’s past, future

The next Nebraska Lecture, "Nebraska Songbook," is 3:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at Sheldon Museum of Art. The song cycle, composed by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's Greg Simon, is inspired by four poems about Nebraska.

The next Nebraska Lecture, "Nebraska Songbook," is 3:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at Sheldon Museum of Art. The song cycle, composed by Nebraska's Greg Simon, is inspired by four poems about Nebraska.

The next Nebraska Lecture will feature a Nebraska-inspired song cycle composed and performed by faculty of the state’s flagship, land-grant university.

“Nebraska Songbook” — an original composition for soprano and piano by Greg Simon, assistant professor of composition in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Glenn Korff School of Music — is 3:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at Sheldon Museum of Art. The song cycle will be performed by Jamie Reimer, associate professor of voice, and Brenda Wristen, professor of piano and piano pedagogy.

Greg Simon
Greg Simon

Simon will open the lecture with a discussion of the meaning and inspiration behind the piece.

Wristen originally commissioned Simon for the work on behalf of the Nebraska Music Teachers Association’s 2018 conference. It was the first composition Simon created entirely in Nebraska.

Simon, who had been on the faculty for about two and a half years, had a residency at the time with the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center in Nebraska City, which gave him time to explore the state and research poems for the song cycle. After reading hundreds of poems, he discovered a recent anthology titled “Nebraska Presence,” edited by Greg Kosmicki and published by Backwaters Press.

Simon chose eight to 10 poems with the intention of doing different volumes over the next few years. This first volume being performed on Nov. 8 includes “Dawn Watch” by Marilyn Dorf, “October” by Shirley Buettner, “The November Hawk” by Stephen Behrendt and “Recent Angels” by Kim Tedrow.

“The narrative, for me, was one of starting in this very simple, sort of self-contained world and opening up to these progressive layers of other things,” Simon said. “At the end, you are still in the same place. You’re still in this very beautiful, very lush natural setting. You still have the Nebraska big sky. You still have the open plains. But there’s this feeling at the end of the cycle of complexity, and maybe even fragility, to the way it’s constructed and what we have seen.”

Simon said having his work included in the Nebraska Lectures this year is special.

“It’s humbling,” he said. “Like many people who are not from Nebraska and who have not spent much time here, I think one thing that we outsiders share is this sense of awe at the amount of pride Nebraskans have in what it means to be from this state.” During the lecture, Simon will talk about his compositional process and relationship to the four texts.

“I think by the end of the lecture, my hope is that people are not only going to have heard a work that strikes them as meaningful and complex and emotional and evocative,” he said, “but also come away from it with an understanding of how a composer like me thinks about those materials and why I consider the act of writing songs to be an important artistic one.”

“Nebraska Songbook” is the 11th presentation in the 2019 Nebraska Lectures: Chancellor’s Distinguished Speaker series. Regularly offered twice a year and featuring faculty discussing research and creative activity, the series has expanded in 2019 to a year-long, 12-talk format celebrating the university’s 150th anniversary. The expanded series is supported through a $15,000 grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities through Humanities Nebraska.

All talks in the N150-inspired Chancellor’s Lecture series are free and open to the public. The talks will be streamed online and made available via podcast. Additional lecture topics and dates will be announced. Regular updates as well as videos from each lecture are available through the Nebraska Lectures website.

The Nebraska Lecture series is sponsored by the Research Council, Office of the Chancellor, Office of Research and Economic Development, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Humanities Nebraska.