Dr. Mark Cook Wins Award for Composition

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Dr. Mark Cook of the music department has received the Director’s Choice Award from the Boston Metro Opera for his song cycle composition “Waking.” Along with the award, the composition will also be queued for performance during the opera’s regular season.

“Waking” is composed of four songs. The composition is based off the poetry of Ron Rash, the Appalachian Heritage Writer in Residence at Shepherd in 2011.

Cook said, “The poems are stark and direct, with an almost synesthetic quality to their imagery.”

The composition began in 2012 as a fulfillment of Cook’s being awarded the West Virginia Music Teachers Association Commissioned Composer for 2012. The composing process took place across the globe, starting in Shepherdstown, then Italy and finally in London. The composition was originally performed at Shepherd’s Appalachian Heritage Literature festival.

Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, an English professor and editor of the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, originally suggested the poems to Cook. She suggested Rash’s poems because of the musical rhythms and quality of Rash’s work and the tribute the poems give to Appalachia.

Shurbutt said, “Rash was thrilled that this incredible musical composition came from his work.”

The composition, composed for soprano and piano, was originally written for Lawren Hill, a Shepherd alumna currently pursuing her master’s in opera at the Manhattan School of Music.

Cook said, “Lawren has a startlingly unique and singular voice. That sound was the ‘image’ in my head during the composing.”

Dr. Robert Scott Beard agreed to perform the piano sections of the work. The two performers move the composition into transcendent musical expressions, explained Cook. Hill will perform the composition as part of her master’s recital in May.

The composition was submitted to the Boston Metro Opera Contempo Festival. The contest features three categories: art song, music theater and opera. There were over 400 submissions from 70 different countries.

Cook was surprised to find out that his composition had received the Director’s Choice Award. His composition will be performed in the upcoming regular season.