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Jumping Into a Unique Challenge

Jumping Into a Unique ChallengeCharged with composing a piece for a Massachusetts choral group led by his colleague Andrew Clark, Associate Professor of Music John McDonald let his creative juices flow.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.18.07] It's not every day that John McDonald, an associate professor of music at Tufts, is asked to compose a work on the quirky topic of frogs. But the avid composer and pianist eagerly took on the challenge issued by his colleague, Tufts' Choral Activities Director Andrew Clark.

“I was specifically asked that it be about frogs,”McDonald told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Clark, who is also the music director of The Worcester Chorus, from Worcester, Mass., thought a frog-themed piece would be a great fit for the group’s “The Sounds of Summer!”concert, which was held on June 16. He turned to McDonald, who has been a member of the music department at Tufts for nearly two decades, to bring his vision to life.

“I started looking for frog texts,”McDonald told the newspaper. “I actually became quite obsessive.”

During his research, which also took place at the many ponds and wetlands near his Mendon, Mass., home, the Ohio native came across a composition by a famous Japanese haiku poet. “Furu ike yakawazu tobikomumizu no oto,”roughly translated by the Telegram & Gazette as “Old pond, frog jumps in, sound of water,”became his inspiration for the composition he calls “Ways to Jump." The newspaper reported that there have been many translations of the haiku over the years, and during McDonald’s piece, “singers perform settings of different versions and variations.”

“Ways to Jump”is performed on harp, percussion, a toy piano and “a special Japanese bell,”according to the Telegram & Gazette. During one section of the piece, chorus members improvise by dropping pebbles and rocks into tubs of water.

According to McDonald, the composition has two distinct personalities.

“This piece certainly has a humorous and playful surface, but it has a Zen aspect as well,”he told the Telegram & Gazette. “I think it ends as a contemplation more than anything, so I hope that will be something that will capture the audience.”

Carving out time to create pieces like “Ways to Jump”is important to McDonald, whose interest in composition goes back to elementary school.

“I have the privilege of being able to write and perform as long as I have the time,”he told the Telegram & Gazette. “I try to work very hard at it. For me it’s a way of life in that I try to do some work every day.


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