A Red Cedar Chamber Music piece that began as one couple’s love story is touching the hearts of audience members in most unexpected ways.
“My soul has been cleansed,” a ninth grade girl exclaimed after hearing “Love & Life” during a recent program at her school.
This 18-minute meditation on marriage weds the words written and spoken by Akwi Nji of Cedar Rapids with music by composer-in-residence Stephen Cohn of Los Angeles, performed by Red Cedar’s husband and wife duo, cellist Carey Bostian and violinist Miera Kim of Iowa City.
Red Cedar board member Tom Carroll of Iowa City commissioned the piece as a 40th anniversary gift for his wife, Patrice. It debuted during a surprise party at their home Aug. 18, leaving not a dry eye in the house, Bostian said.
“It goes back and forth between communication between the music and words,” he said.
It’s a mix of short verse and longer text, sometimes alternating with the music, other times performed simultaneously.
“It’s got a great arc. The conflict is the chaotic years of child-rearing — the adolescent years. Parenting is tough,” said the father of two teenage boys. “It pulls you at once toward and away from the partner.
“It’s every parent’s story, but you don’t have to be a parent. You just have to have had a relationship to be able to imagine and identify with how stress of one kind or another changes a relationship, changes the way you feel about a person, and how organic it is, how the energy flows between the two people.”
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More than a month before this weekend’s main stage concerts in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, the trio took their program on the road to schools, senior centers, libraries and community rooms around Eastern Iowa. These intimate settings allowed listeners to not only interact with the music, but with the performers, as well.
And “Love & Life” is speaking to all ages and circumstances.
“People have come up to us after every performance,” said Bostian, Red Cedar’s artistic director. “One woman was practically shaking.”
She and her husband had divorced two months ago, and she told Bostian: “‘I need those words. Can you send me those words?’ ... It turns out she was really listening, and this really caught her attention. She was totally captivated by it.” The text for all of the readings have been given to subsequent audiences.
Another longtime concertgoer, whose husband has Alzheimer’s disease, also was touched by the piece she heard the day after her anniversary. Her husband “practically can’t remember their anniversary,” Bostian said. “He doesn’t have these memories of what it was like when the kids were young, so it was incredibly meaningful for her.
“Another woman’s whose husband had just recently passed away said, ‘Had I known what this program was about, I wouldn’t have come — and what I would have missed.’ She was so thankful to have experienced this story. It’s resonating with people so personally.”
The other two pieces on the program also explore pairing words with music, something Red Cedar typically does in weaving a narrative between numbers, sharing history and anecdotes with audiences. This concert expands and builds on that notion around relationship themes.
“Long Dance, Slow Revolution” spins new music by Michael Kimber of Iowa City around a 1997 poem by Julie Hanson of Cedar Rapids.
“It’s a really effective, perfect concert opener,” Bostian said.
“Conversations,” a 1998 six-movement piece by David Ott, features verses written by Nji as well as by students from Cedar Rapids Washington High School students, created during a four-day residency there in early October.
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“It’s incredibly powerful,” Bostian said. “People are listening to the verse first and then hearing the music in that context.
“And now we want to do something with Akwi again.”
WHAT: “Love & Life”: Red Cedar Chamber Music with spoken word artist Akwi Nji
CEDAR RAPIDS: 8 p.m. Saturday (10/27), CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE; $20, $5 student rush, CSPS Box Office, (319) 364-1580 or Legionarts.org
IOWA CITY: 3 p.m. Sunday (10/28), Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.; $22, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org/event/love-life/
PROGRAM: “Love & Life,” a marriage of words and music co-written by Red Cedar composer-in-residence Stephen Cohn and guest artist Akwi Nji; “Conversations” by David Ott; “Long Dance, Slow Revolution,” a poem by Julie Hanson, presented with music by Michael Kimber
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