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    MSO commissions work, curriculum in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King

    Jon W. Sparks

    Composer Paul Brantley was chosen from among 282 applicants to create a work titled “The Rebirth of the Dream.”


    The Memphis Symphony Orchestra’s Dream Project is aimed at having a cultural impact not only onstage but also in classrooms.

    The project announced Monday includes the commission of a musical composition that reflects the historic impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and plans for an accompanying elementary educational curriculum.

    The venture evolved from members of Mei-Ann’s Circle of Friends, a group of about 150 of the community’s most influential women. The philanthropic group honors MSO music director Mei-Ann Chen by encouraging the orchestra’s ongoing mission of community outreach and inclusion.

    Georgia-born Paul Brantley was selected to create the work to be titled “The Rebirth of the Dream.” It will be performed by the MSO on May 16, 2014, at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. The associated educational curriculum will be developed in the 2014-15 school year.

    Ellen Rolfes, a consultant to the MSO, said the curriculum, which has not yet been developed, will get a pilot run next year in some charter schools. “After that, we hope to get a grant to put it in all the schools,” she said.

    The symphony organization has long worked with area schools at several levels, from performing to mentoring.

    The Dream Project was inspired by members of the circle who were discussing their memories of the assassination of Dr. King at the Lorraine Motel in 1968, and its subsequent impact on the community and the world, said Mary McDaniel, one of the group’s co-chairs.

    “Then we explored our collective imagination about what we want Memphis to be for the next generation,” said the retired FedEx vice president.

    “We’re hoping the composer will take our recollections and compose a piece that will move Memphis not only into a great direction today but with the next generations,” she said.

    The nationwide competition captured the interest of 282 composers from 35 states who sent in ideas. A committee from the circle whittled down the applicants to about two dozen and then to four finalists before choosing Brantley. There were no criteria for age, sex, race, prominence or geography, and these elements were not known to the selection committee. The blind evaluation involved studying the statements and music samples of the composers.

    “We didn’t want to tell the composers how to do it,” McDaniel said. “We believed that they would understand our hearts, souls and minds and put that to music and give us an example of what they thought the outcome should be.”

    Brantley now lives in New York City where he freelances as a composer and cellist. He also teaches conducting at the Manhattan School of Music. In 1986, Brantley was commissioned to do a piece commemorating the 250th anniversary of Augusta, Ga., and the first Martin Luther King Day. “Now the idea of creatively encountering Dr. King’s words and spirit, the tragedy of his assassination, then moving the score into a vision for a better community is rather daunting, but also deeply inspiring,” he said.

    Funding has come largely through efforts by the circle, and fundraising efforts are continuing, said Becky Wilson, another co-chair of the circle. Costs were not disclosed, but, Wilson said, “Our goal is to get all of it paid for with new money or grants. The cost of the commission is taken care of, but we want to also take care of production costs.”

    Organizers say the Dream Project concept is not so much about the life of Dr. King but is rather a look at how his assassination affected Memphis. The aim is to teach how history shapes a city and the importance of having a vision for the community.
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