PSU Arts

January, 2007

A Young Composer Makes a Big Noise

by Elizabeth Cheney

2007 arts

Melanie Donahue and professor of music Jonathan Santore

Melanie Donahue, a senior music education major in Plymouth State University’s Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance, has had Eire, her original composition for band, accepted for publication by Alfred Publishing Company, one of the world’s largest publishers of written music. This feat is almost unheard of for an undergraduate, and Eire is reported to be the only piece by a female composer in the current Alfred band catalog. Publication is expected in June 2007.

Donahue said she began composing during her junior year of high school. At PSU she first took general education courses while deciding which major would suit her best. She quickly realized that she missed music.

Donahue was accepted into the music education program and found herself drawn to composition classes and the opportunity to work with Jonathan Santore, department chair and professor of music theory and composition. Santore was named New Hampshire Composer of the Year in 2006 and 1999, has won numerous awards for his compositions, and serves as composer-in-residence for the New Hampshire Master Chorale.

Santore was slated to conduct the Symphonic Band during the 2006 spring semester while Band Director Gary Corcoran was on sabbatical. “I decided that I’d try to premiere new works by student composers,” Santore said. “I approached three students toward the end of fall semester and told them that if they had a complete score to me by the end of Winterim, I’d premiere the works at the Symphonic Band spring concert.” Melanie decided to take him up on the challenge.

“As I was working with Melanie throughout the compositional process of Eire, I could tell that the finished product would be something special,” said Santore. “Not only is the piece well crafted and well constructed, it’s also in a very appealing, engaging style. And it ‘works’ for band—that verb covers a wide range of issues that confront any director selecting a composition for performance by an ensemble. I think this is the beginning of a notable compositional career.”

Santore points out that it is unusual for composition students to have their works premiered by one of the University’s major ensembles, and added, “Of course, I’m proud of the fact that we worked the piece up well enough to impress a publisher, too!”

Donahue said that the melody that became the primary theme for Eire was in her head for two years. A second theme is composed in Irish jig style. Donahue said it is “celebratory—perhaps like St. Patrick’s day—and reflective of aspects of Irish culture.”

Composition requires more than technical skill—the process involves research, in this case about Irish music, the immigrant experience, and family history. Donahue said she was influenced by Angela’s Ashes and ’TIS, two memoirs by Frank McCourt.

“I thought of the scenery of Ireland, the ocean, and him coming to New York on the boat, and I connected with his experience,” Donahue said.

Like Santore, Donahue’s family knew Eire was a special piece. “They were blown away that it was accepted by a major publisher of band music,” she said. “Composition is a difficult task, but it makes me very happy. I am so fortunate that Dr. Santore gave me the opportunity to write this piece and to have it performed.”

“[Donahue] is a very talented writer and I am certain that she will have great success,” said Robert Sheldon of Alfred. “An acceptance into our catalog means that her work was selected over hundreds of other pieces, including many by previously published and successful composers. Eire is a delightful composition that will be very playable by bands across the country.”

Donahue has since submitted a second piece, Celtic Voyage, to Alfred for consideration.

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