A Life in Harmony
Meet Jocelyn Hagen, St. Catherine's new composer-in-residence.
BY KAREN K. HANSEN | PHOTO BY RICHARD FLEISCHMAN
Brahms, Britten, Fauré, Mozart and Verdi were middle-aged when they composed requiem masses. Jocelyn Hagen, by contrast, launched her composition career with a requiem she began writing during college.
"I'm a jump-in-with-both-feet person," Hagen says. "I did that with this piece, and it has done nothing but good things for me." That early start inspired Hagen's first commissions. Now she's expanding upon and reworking the requiem, Ashes of Roses, as St. Catherine University's composer-in-residence this spring.
Professor Patricia Connors, chair of the Department of Music and Theater and director of St. Catherine University's choirs, has programmed other Hagen compositions and twice hired her to teach orchestration. Now, as St. Catherine's music department prepares to add two new majors (Music in the Church and Music Theater), it is a mark of distinction to have a composer-in-residence, especially one with national acclaim.
"It's a way for our students, performers and community members to recognize that composers are not all long gone and unreachable," Connors says. She considers Hagen, who juggles artistic, business and family life, "a wonderful model for students."
Although this is St. Kate's first multiple-event composer residency in the past 20 years — funded in part by the Sister Mona Riley Endowment for the Arts — it is not Hagen's debut. Currently composer-in-residence for The Singers–Minnesota Choral Artists, she has served as composer in the schools for the American Composers Forum and composer-in-residence at Shorter College in Georgia and Valley City State University in North Dakota.
Musical role model
Perhaps because it was her first major composition, Ashes of Roses remains close to Hagen's heart. And now, as she adds three movements to the existing six and re-orchestrates the piece, she's excited to use what she's learned since she composed the work in her early 20s.
She's also inspired to know that the composition will be performed by a choir composed of mostly young women who are the same age she was when she wrote the piece.
Hagen calls Ashes a feminine piece with a poem inside — "kind of like Brahms' requiem." Poetry informs another part of Hagen's residency. From four poems she suggested, the Women's Choir chose Song III by Sara Teasdale for her to set to music. Hagen is using imagery in the text — flowers, fire, forgetting, time — to "paint" with the music and reflect the emotion of the text.
During a lecture for music students this spring, Hagen will illuminate her musical inspirations and composing process — which for her involves hearing the music first in her head. "It actually takes me longer to plan out a piece and start hearing it than it takes to write it down," she explains.
In a second private lecture for students, Hagen will focus on life as an artist and entrepreneur, and as a wife and mother. She'll also hold a public meet-the-composer conversation before the Ashes of Roses performance on May 8.
When the singers, orchestra and Connors take the stage, how will it feel for Hagen to sit in the audience, all control gone from her hands and voice and into theirs?
"It's scary," she concedes. "But, especially when it's performed really well, it's such a wonderful experience to be enveloped by the music instead of having it all be in my head. It's an amazing moment."
Karen K. Hansen is a Twin Cities–based freelance clarinetist and writer.