By Maureen McMullen
The collaboration of music and poetry is a familiar concept for faculty members Kevin Zepper and Terrie Manno. Though the English professor and piano professor have creatively crossed paths for several years, the duo recently merged their work to include their original composition and poetry.
“As we’ve seen each other over the years, crossing paths in various kinds of meeting, we’d talk about our individual work and he’d say, ‘You know we should do something together,’” Manno said. “Finally a few years ago I said, ‘Let’s just do it; let’s get coffee, and figure out what we can do that could possibly be interesting. We came up with this idea, and it’s just blossoming from there.”
Manno and Zepper performed Lines and Notes, a free showcase of their most recent collaborative work, Wednesday at Stoker’s in the HoDo’s basement. The venue’s mellow ambiance offered a cozy setting for the performance.
“Look at the atmosphere; we’ve got brick walls, we’ve got cool art, it’s intimate; it’s like we’re in somebody’s front room or the basement,” Zepper said. “I didn’t want it to be huge, and they said, ‘Sure, let’s do this.’”
Lines and Notes featured Zepper reading a variety of his poems accompanied by Manno’s piano performance, which featured her original compositions as well as sampling from iconic music including “Star-Spangled Banner” and Beethoven.
Though Manno’s seamless musical pairing to the inflections in Zepper’s poetry flowed effortlessly, the two meticulously arrange each piece to ensure a well-executed performance.
The orchestration of each piece usually starts with one of Zepper’s poems, which he records and turns over to Manno to set to music.
“Mostly, the poetry comes first, but occasionally the music will come first; I’m sure it’s going to flip-flop as we go along,” Manno said. “We sort of developed the choreography in our practices; the music is very strategically selected, composed and performed, in a very specific way to best communicate what the poetry is saying.”
As Manno and Zepper continue to harmonize their art forms, the collaborative process gains momentum.
“When we first got started, it was kind of like getting started to ride a bicycle,” Zepper said. “Now that we’ve worked together and we’ve done performances, and we’re getting a bit more comfortable with each other, it’s coming a little easier. There was a piece called ‘Artemis’ for example, we nailed that jauntiness down in two practices, and then, bam! We have it. She would play it and say this is where I hear that, and I would read it through and then I could hear it.”
Though the process has become a little easier for the two, they make sure not to spend too much time trying to resolve creative hang-ups.
“Sometimes poems don’t work with the music… you can’t force it,” Zepper said. “There are songs that we have sitting there, and there are poems that we have sitting there that don’t have their matches yet. Both of us are patient, like, ‘I don’t know if this is working,’ but more often than not, it does. You don’t have to make them work right this minute. There are plenty of things we can do in the meantime.”
Though collaborations with their original work is a fairly new concept for Manno and Zepper, they plan to continue hosting events like Lines and Notes, including future performances at Stoker’s and tentative performance on campus.
“In terms of doing poetry in particular, you have to be your own agent; you have to talk to people and say, ‘I think this might be good,’” said Zepper. “If you wait for somebody to ask you, it’s probably not going to happen. I would guess if we asked to do this in May, I’m sure we could arrange that.”