Award-Winning Faculty Composer Fosters Music-Making Students

Monday, November 12, 2007

At first, when composer Suzanne Sorkin, Ph.D., assistant professor of music in the department of fine and performing arts, sits down at the baby grand piano in Boland Hall, she looks dwarfed by the span of the instrument's opened lid. But then she begins to play an impromptu Bach Two-part Invention, and the rich, precise notes of the Baroque genius tumble effortlessly into the room. It is clear that Sorkin is a master of the keyboard.

And then she plays one of her own compositions, Falling through crimson and lead, a delicate atonal work for solo piano that sounds like asymmetric lace, and it is clear why she has had a three-year run ('05-'07) of winning the ASCAPLUS (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) Award, which is judged by an independent panel of distinguished experts for the activity generated by each member's catalog, with emphasis on recent performances.

One such performance of Sorkin's work by counter) induction, a New York-based contemporary music composer/performer collective, was positively reviewed in the New York Times:"Suzanne Sorkin's two-movement String Trio … spoke in emphatic oratorical terms." A recording of Falling through crimson and lead drew notice from a Sequenza 21 reviewer for its boldness: "with its bracing, incisive broken-pottery harmonies, [it] hearkens back to high-modernist atonality."

Sorkin has also received coveted composition residencies at prestigious artist colonies, sizeable fellowships throughout her education, and most recently, second prize for the 2007 Third Millennium Ensemble National Composition Competition. Next May, the critically acclaimed Washington, D.C., group will perform her prize-winning entry After Dark, for soprano, violin, 'cello and piano.

Clearly, Sorkin is no small talent. But her abilities reach well beyond the solitary pursuits of a new music composer.

According to Dennis McNally, S.J., professor and chair of the department of fine and performing arts, "Dr. Sorkin has turned a sleepy service program into a viable and vibrant vision; her leadership in music has led to a sea change within SJU's music division."

Sorkin is as passionate about teaching as she is about composing. "I really love writing music and I want to be able to help students bring that out of themselves," she said. "It is very satisfying to see them create their own music and become engaged in their own process, no matter what their prior level of experience."

William Madges, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, agrees that Sorkin has "made a significant contribution to the enrichment of our students' education at Saint Joseph's."

The numbers back up Madges' observation. When Sorkin arrived here from a faculty position at Vassar in the fall of 2005, there were no music theory and composition students. In the fall of 2006, there were five student composers, and this fall there are 10 student composers, writing pieces for clarinet and oboe and violin and cello. Last spring, Melissa Kurek '07, was accepted into the master's of music in composition graduate program at Rowan University.

Added Fr. McNally, "Our students are practicing, learning new approaches to making music, and studying music theory and history with great interest, from challenging new adjunct faculty, long-time professional concertmasters -- leaders of the Jazz Band and the University Singers -- and this charming yet challenging maestra. We are lucky to have her here."

--Patricia Allen

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