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John Morrison • ROOTS: FROM THE GROUND UP • Faculty Artist Recital

Sunday • March 26, 2023   |   8:00 pm

Free – $20.00
While this event is open to the public, you must pre-register in order to gain access in person. No walk-ups will be allowed at Longy for performances.


With roots in the American South, John Morrison’s artistry has been inspired by blues, bluegrass, and jam bands. His recital highlights the innovation and inclusion that characterize southern musical traditions. The repertoire includes a performance of Morrison’s own Allman Brothers Suite, with arrangements of some of the band’s most iconic songs.

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Blues Outside Inside Shadow was composed in 1983-84. The title refers to the principle ideas in the work as well as to its structure and dedication. One central idea is a bluesy motive which recurs intermittently throughout the piece; it is framed by a 12-note melodic idea which undergoes a variety of “shadow” doublings. Toward the end is included a quotation in very long note values of the traditional tune “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”, which the composer’s mother had long requested be performed at her funeral. The tune’s presence along with the somber and ethereal mood of the piece thus matches its ultimate performance setting.

My Love Lives Down That Long Dirt Road was composed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the first half of 1992 and premiered October 20, 1992 in Nashville, Tennessee. The emotional shape set forth in the successive movements follows the progression of the developing relationship between the composer and Vivian Sarah Montgomery, the harpsichordist for whom the work is written. The overall title refers to the fact that in the early months of their relationship, Ms. Montgomery lived on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Michigan, reached from the composer’s residence by way of a long dirt road. The movement bearing the same title uses a simple tune written during courtship and therefore carries the sentiment of that time. The “Funky Pair” movements explore the relation of independent manuals to each other and refer to the couple in question. Other movements reflect the difficulties of adjustment during marriage and a cyclical return of hope, joy, and humor.

Every sound in Rising Blue was first produced on violin. The tape part incorporates a wide range of digital signal processing of those sounds, from virtually none at all to moderate alteration. The music is in two large movements, with an interlude and postlude of similar sonic content. The title of the work comes from the name I attached to the sound source of the postlude. One of my most performed works, Rohan Gregory has distinguished himself as a profound interpreter of the piece on numerous occasions.

Blue Bang was composed in summer 2011 for the Firebird Ensemble of Boston, Kate Vincent, artistic director, with David Maxwell on piano. The idea of composing for this mix of instruments occurred to me after I learned that David, in addition to being a widely acclaimed blues pianist, was a devoted listener to new music. Since much of my music has been influenced by the blues, and that as a native Southerner I consider myself an heir to the tradition, it seemed a most natural path to take. David has passed away since the premiere, so we offer this performance to his memory. The structure of the piece unfolds as a series of explosions, a series of “Big Bangs” such as physicists theorize began our universe. String theory posits that our three spatial dimensions are but a portion of the eleven spatial dimensions that exist, and that sometime after the Big Bang, our spatial dimensions unfurled in a period of rapid expansion. Current thought seems to be that our universe continues to rapidly expand, and will never reach a point of maximum expansion and then collapse into another singularity and Big Bang. Blue Bang takes an opposing view, and allows each explosion to be followed by a collapse, to be followed by a slightly more significant expansion. Thus the subtitles which serve as rehearsal markers progress from small world 1 through small world 4, through expanding worlds 1, 2, and 3, eventually landing in improvising world 1 and improvising world 2. Musically, the aim of Blue Bang is to provide a new-music context for a blues pianist to be fully him- or herself, and to create a piece which lays out a continuous musical spectrum in which the kinship of blues and new music is made evident in sound.

Allman Brothers Suite was composed in 2010 for the late great new music group, Firebird Ensemble. Kate Vincent, its founding director, now lives in Los Angeles, but we have assembled the old group for tonight’s performance, and offer a nod a gratitude toward Kate for her openness to this piece, tonight’s performance, and her contributions to the new music life of Boston before her departure.


John Morrison (b. 1956) comes from rural North Carolina.  As a high school student attending the Governor’s School of North Carolina, John was immersed entirely in music of the twentieth century, laying the foundation for a life as a composer.  His undergraduate musical studies were at Davidson College, yet it was only after college that John began to study composition. He completed a Master of Music in composition at the University of Tennessee and a doctorate at the University of Michigan, and was most influenced by studies with John Anthony Lennon, William Bolcom, William Albright, and Leslie Bassett.

Morrison has composed for a wide range of ensembles, solo instruments, and choruses, with commissions and performances by numerous artists around the US, including the Firebird Ensemble, Dinosaur Annex, Intergalactic Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, and the Detroit Chamber Winds. A recipient of a 2023 Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, John has also received grants from the Fromm Foundation, the Iowa and Ohio Arts Councils, the American Composers Forum, Meet the Composer, and the American Music Center. Residencies at the MacDowell Colony, I-Park Artists’ Enclave, the Festival at Sandpoint, June in Buffalo, and the Charles Ives Center for American Music have provided space and nourishment for his compositional work.

A longtime practitioner of Zen, the roots of John’s meditation practice have deepened over thirty years into contemplative methods in composing and teaching music. At the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, MA, John teaches courses such as Contemplating Music that incorporate a process founded on insight. He established the Greater Boston Center for Contemplative Mind in Music, which seeks to acknowledge and promote the use of contemplative methods in all areas of music. Underneath it all stands John’s convictions that musical experience is equal across styles and that it is fundamentally spiritual in nature. These principles are grounding for his belief that engaging deeply with music helps to weaken prejudices around cultural value, and have given rise to his workshop, Just Listening, which brings glimpses of Beginner’s Mind to participants.  That workshop employs John’s holistic theory of music, the Sound-Energy Aggregate (SEA), and both his workshop and this theory are inspirations behind the work on tonight’s program.

John Morrison has been on the Theory and Composition faculty at the Longy School of Music since 2003, having served as Chair for the first seven of those years.  In addition, John has taught at Oberlin College, Cleveland State University, Luther College, Tennessee State University, and Case Western Reserve University.  His music is available on the Innova, Arizona University Recordings, and Ten Thousand Lakes labels. To access reviews, a list of works, scores, and recordings, visit http://www.johnmorrison.org


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Sunday • March 26, 2023
8:00 pm
Free – $20.00
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Edward M. Pickman Concert Hall
Longy School of Music, 27 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States
Thanks to our partnership with the Massachusetts Cultural Council and their “Card to Culture” program, Longy School of Music of Bard College can offer free tickets to many of our diverse and innovative performance offerings. See the full list of participating “Card to Culture” organizations offering EBT, WIC, and ConnectorCare discounts.