Album Release – At Seventy: The Percussion Music of Stuart Saunders Smith

At Seventy: The Percussion Music of Stuart Saunders Smith,The Authors: a marimba opera, Chen Li Music, CLM 107, 2020, Buy it HERE.

I’m featured on The Authors (2006) on Disk Five.

In 2017, I re-recorded Smith’s The Authors (a marimba opera). It can also be heard on my 2015 solo album, “Theatrical Music for Solo Percussion” on Albany Records. I’ve been living with this piece now since 2009 when I first premiered the piece as part of my dissertation project with the same name as my solo album, “Theatrical Music for Solo Percussion.” It has become one of my favorite pieces for solo percussion. At twenty-six minutes in length, the work is staggeringly beautiful, complex, and from the heart. The texts selected from the famous authors and poets are stunning and were carefully hand selected by Stuart and Jamie Dietz who commissioned the piece. Here’s some program notes to give you a better idea about the piece:


The Authors (2006)

  1. Whitman
  2. Kerouac
  3. Dickinson
  4. Salinger
  5. Bowles
  6. Miller
  7. Stein
  8. Chute
  9. Black Elk
  10. Sylvia Plath, Edna St. Vincent Millay
  11. Bly

The Authors for marimba / vocalist was commissioned by percussionist Jamie Dietz in 2006 and received its world premiere performance by Dr. Lee Hinkle on April 8, 2009. The Authors is a marimba opera.  Made up of eleven movements, the spoken and sung texts represent excerpts from the authors’s famous novels, poems, and sonnets. The performer is tasked with speaking, singing, whistling, and acting while playing the marimba. Most of the movements feature the marimba being played in a traditional manner; however, in movement seven, “Stein,” the marimba’s keys are modified by placing cardboard over certain notes to produce a pitched typewriter-like sound. In movement eight, “Chute,” the performer sits on the stage to play a homemade marimba made up of five small resonating logs.  And in movement eleven, “Bly,” narrator (specified to be of the opposite sex of the performer) takes over the text from the performer to close the piece. Proceeding in a quasi-cinematic fashion, each movement of The Authors provides a brief snapshot of its author dramatically, musically, and literarily.

Stuart Saunders Smith (b. 1948) is a prolific American composer whose works often combine music, text, and theater to create a unified “music-text” sense. In his traditionally notated compositions, Smith uses irregular rhythms to imitate the irregular rhythms and pitch of human speech patterns.  In other compositions, Smith utilizes alternate notation systems created especially for each piece.  In these cases Smith’s scores often appear more like the script for a straight play than a musical score; complete with stage directions. Dr. Smith earned a D.M.A. in composition at the University of Illinois where he studied with Edward Miller, Edward Diemente, Salvatore Martirano, Herbert Brün and Benjamin Johnston.  Dr. Smith is an emeritus professor of composition at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and his music is published by Smith Publications.

I hope that you might consider checking out this new recording. It was a very challenging experience re-recording this epic work, but it was also fun to have the opportunity to change and enhance my interpretations after having lived with the piece for a while longer.