Composer Scott L. Miller is on the leading edge of what he anticipates will be the new way people experience music. The St. Cloud State University professor is combining live musical performance with virtual reality film and his newest work focuses on Quarry Park.
The world premiere of his piece titled “The Blue in the Distance” will be performed on campus by the new music ensemble Zeitgeist, based in St. Paul. The performance will also feature the voice of soprano Tracey Engleman.
Audience members will listen to the ensemble and Engleman as they don virtual reality headsets that will cast footage of the changing seasons in the park.
“One of the things I think is very defining about Minnesota and Central Minnesota are the seasons and how the landscape can really transform over the course of four seasons,” Miller said.
He started by scoping out a handful of picturesque places in Quarry Park, including a long meadow and a lake area that attracts birds. He returned to the various spots throughout the year to film the changes.
Once complete, he began searching for a structure that would lead the audience through the imagery and he found Sutphen’s poem. The poem is written in four stanzas with each being closely related to a season and a color; blue, gold, black and green.
He began with the text, knowing he wanted to write it specifically for Engleman.
“Then it was for me, living with this, her performance of the poetry, and responding to that musically and deciding what kind of a sonic world I wanted to create around these colors,” Miller said.
While Engleman will perform the poetry as word text, what she sings is not the text itself but rather the dominant syllables from the dominant color words.
“The music is our experience, we’ll be hearing each stanza of the poetry followed by wordless music that is responding to it,” Miller said.
For Joyce Sutphen, whose poetry has become the catalyst for various compositions and a painting, it brings her work into the light and exposes it to different audiences.
“Seeing new possibilities for those words and realizing the meaning goes on beyond what I might have intended, it renews those pieces and makes them bigger,” Sutphen said.
Sutphen went to Cathedral High School and grew up with the quarries storied as a summer gathering place for teenagers and college students. Her poem begins with a river and in her mind, she’s referencing the Sauk River.
“The country I’m describing, the trees and clouds and hills are quintessentially Stearns County, Minnesota; it’s always in the background even if I’m in London, there’s something about the blue in the distance that’s with me,” she said.
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