I think it was the summer of 2008 that I got the crazy notion of emailing the three most respected American women composers about my anthology project. What could happen? I certainly wouldn't be any worse off if I never heard from them. So emails flew to Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Libby Larsen and Joan Tower, and then I set about cleaning the house and doing all those summer things that never happen during the school year. I think I was actually dusting when the phone rang. "Hi, this is Ellen Zwilich, and I think your anthology is a great idea. I would love to be part of it." Gobsmacked. I think I managed not to fangirl at her too much. She was absolutely gracious and was so helpful in putting me in touch with appropriate contacts at Theodore Presser. Her Partita for violin and piano was written for a high school student of Louise Behrend, and so was already tailor-made for the project. Dr. Zwilich was kind enough to offer the whole work for my use. Unfortunately, it would have made the volume too long, so she chose the "Tango" movement as the best stand-alone piece. Please do look for the whole Partita-- it is a terrific work, accessible and attractive!
The boost that phone call made to my ability to complete the whole shebang was immeasurable. She made me feel both validated and inspired. Having the first woman to earn the Pulitzer Prize in Music encourage me was a tremendously special encounter.
Libby Larsen is an amazing confidence booster. Such a positive and caring person! We arranged to meet in Minneapolis when I was traveling there, and had a really wonderful lunch together. It was right before the 2008 presidential election, and as we discovered common political leanings, she sent me a "Baroque Obama" t-shirt afterwards (with President Obama's face superimposed over Bach's in his iconic portrait). I brought along some of the other volume four pieces for her to look at, and she talked about wanting to do something very rhythmic and driving, perhaps even with speech involved. Needless to say, I was fine with anything she wanted to do! Imagine my surprise when Blue Piece arrived-- it's a dreamy, languorous piece conjuring up images of smokey rooms and cosmopolitans. I love it.
Ms. Larsen kept her commission fee intentionally low to help out, saying she just wanted to be a part of the project. Never having commissioned a piece before (I like to start at the top), it didn't occur to me until it was almost finished that that meant I could also dedicate it to someone. After some thought, I realized I wanted to dedicate it to all my violin teachers, in thanks for the many hours they dedicated to me.