Queering the Pitch: music for solo cello

I first thought of performing a recital of music by queer composers during the final year of my master's degree in Boston. I mentioned this thought to Rhonda Rider, my always-supportive teacher, and she casually suggested that I read Philip Brett’s musicological anthology, Queering the Pitch, which compiled articles dealing with the newly-emerging ‘queer musicology.’  I found the book to be an enlightening - though not life changing - good read, but as I often do when planning recital programs, I quietly tabled this project.

When I moved to Georgia and began my doctoral studies in 2010, I decided to fully pursue my "gay recital." At first, this project - which I originally envisioned as a series of recitals to include both existing and newly written works for solo cello, cello & soprano, and cello & piano - was entirely self-serving: not only had I found a relatively untouched subject matter suitable for a dissertation project, but I also had musical material that would resonate within a community that is fiercely protective and profoundly responsive to it’s members’ contributions. In other words, I had a built in audience that could serve to further my career goals. 

As I began to perform this solo cello recital around the country, my self-centered, capitalistic attitude quickly melted away. Audience members - from elderly women to teenage men to middle-aged transgendered individuals - spoke to me about the benefits of celebrating queer composers. One west coast concertgoer described her deep connection to the music (which she said was, “unexpected, considering how recently this music was written!”) simply because the composers were members of “her” community. In short order I realized the good that I could do with this project. Instead of pursuing my big break I should be helping to eliminate the deplorable prejudices that queer men and women still face. I began to have thoughts of changing the world with music, one audience member at a time.  

Over the past three years, this project has become something personal to me, certainly more personal than the abstract and academic performances that are the requirement of any advanced degree. I find it hard to place in to words the emotion that I feel for this recital series. Members of the queer community exist in all walks of life and are prodigious contributors to humankind. The insufferable discrimination that many in the queer community face from family members, friends, and members of the United States Government simply for being who they are is unacceptable and can not be tolerated (we tolerate bad hair days; we love individuals). This project is my attempt to celebrate all the sweeping contributions that queer people offer the world and bring forth change that would eliminate hate and make this recital, with this title and subject matter, an irrelevant non-event.

I hope that you'll join me at an upcoming performance to hear these masterworks of the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries. The following is a list of works that I have performed under the Queering the Pitch concert title:

Marcos Balter - memoria
Benjamin Britten - The Suites for Cello
John Corigliano - Fancy on a Bach Air
Emily Cooley - Locus
Dominick DiOrio - And the barriers had vanished
Dominick DiOrio - Tarantella
Laura Kaminsky - The Great Unconformity
Brian D. Kelly - Futility
Steven J. Knell - Anthemoessa
Steven J. Knell - Fantasia (Come Out, Ye Saints)
Robert Maggio - Winter Toccata (I Can't Believe You Want to Die)
Robert Muczynski - Gallery: Suite for Unaccompanied Cello
Ned Rorem - After Reading Shakespeare
Roger Zahab - reaching after
Roger Zahab - introductory notes for a display of avian finery