TRAVERSE CITY — Jeffrey Cobb read his wife’s book and had an idea.
The Northwestern Michigan College Director of Music Programs and Choirs wanted to turn “The Lesson of the Lark” into a musical project of his own.
The book written by Laura Knight Cobb was published in 2018 to celebrate the centennial of the 19th amendment — which ensured that one’s right to vote could not be discriminated on the basis of sex. Cobb set off to compose a multi-movement piece with a narrator, soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists, chorus and jazz orchestra.
“It just struck me as the perfect text for a long form piece,” Cobb said.
Nearly a year later, “The Lesson of the Lark” is set to make its premiere virtually.
Cobb and the school of music began the project to start the spring semester rehearsing with the plan to host an audience for its premiere in April, but the coronavirus pandemic made it clear that a virtual option was needed.
“It’s not great but it’s just amazing how important that it has been to still feel like we’re connecting with each other,” Cobb said. “It’s not the same, we’re not singing in the same place but we still feel like we’re making music together.”
Virtual rehearsals among a 50-person choir occurred over Zoom and then recorded individually. Involved are singers from NMC’s Chamber Singers, Canticum Novum, Grand Traverse Chorale.
Orchestra movements were recorded by musicians at their houses, allowing some to even play multiple instruments at once in the final production. Faculty members Laurie Sears, Mike Hunter, Josh Wagner, Dorothy Vogel, and Kim Teachout perform alongside members from the Traverse Symphony Orchestra and Interlochen Academy of the Arts’s faculty.
Sears, NMC’s Director of Jazz Bands and Instructor of Saxophone, plays all five saxophone parts in the final production. Before, she recorded multiple instruments in the score to the “Legend of Mackinac Island.”
“Musicians are really missing performing with each other and we really miss our audiences,” Sears said. “People are moving into the hall, and there’s the excitement of the performance filling up the seats, and everybody’s anticipating it and then there’s the applause ... there’s the whole social aspect of it too.”
NMC’s visual communication students combined all the individual performance videos into one finished product.
That means aligning about 720 clips between the eight movements, which can be much more work on the back end compared to a live production where everything builds up to one day.
“There’s so much more work behind the scenes in order of magnitude,” Cobb said. “When you prepare for a concert we rehearse together and then we all show up to perform together — here it’s so much more work on everybody’s part.”
Laura Cobb’s book has three main characters, a gardener, a lark and a girl. Jeffrey Cobb chose to compose the performance so the book is plotted out in different movements and each character in the book is represented by a voice in choir. The choir plays the role of the gardener with two soloists representing the girl and the lark. Laura Cobb will read the narration of the book herself.
“When I sat down to start composing it, I just I couldn’t believe how quickly it came,” Jeffrey Cobb said. “The text is just really spoke to me and pushed me along and was so inspiring. It kind of wrote itself.”
Sears thinks the piece is timely as a tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the historical prominence of Kamala Harris becoming the first woman elected as vice president.
“The music Jeff composed is so interested, and it covers so many different classical and jazz styles,” Sears said. “It was really fun to play.”
The production airs Dec. 4 from 7-8:30 p.m.
Register for the free performance at My North tickets to receive a link to view the premiere and pre-premiere talk shortly before the event.