Herbert Bielawa earned his degrees in piano and composition at the University of Illinois and the University of Southern California. He has been a member of the faculties of Bethany College and San Francisco State University where he founded the Pro Music Nova and created the electronic music studio and courses for the Computer Music Major. He has written music for instrumental ensembles, piano, harpsichord, pipe organ, choir, electronics, chamber opera, band and orchestra. SANAS for chorus and orchestra won honors from the Waging Peace Project in 2001 His much-performed SPECTRUM for Band and Tape was composed during his CMP (Contemporary Music Project) residency in Houston from 1964 to 1966. Other residencies were with the San Francisco Summer Music Workshop in 1976 and with the S.F. Choral Artists in 2000. He is presently composer-in-residence for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, California. Since 1991 he has been a free-lance composer and pianist. He is a member of the Ilona Clavier Duo and founding director and performinig member of Sounds New, a San Francisco Bay Area new music ensemble.
About Sojourner Songs
It must have been 20 years ago I got a letter “out of the blue” from John Gracen Brown, a poet. I don’t know where he learned of my work, but he wanted to see if I would set some of his poems.
At the time I was in no position to do so. But I did want to accommodate him eventually if I could, so eventually I looked at his work again. Some of his poems are four words long! How does one make music of that? I thought. In those days most of his poems were one to three lines. Still definitely short. These poetic “nuggets” really are not what I usually set to music. Their minimal character, however, is what essentially had to define the music. But at the same time I came up with a real challenge, which was to create pieces with them that would be incredibly easy to sing but be as musical and expessively meaningful as any good choral piece. This was NOT easy, and I don’t know if I actually really succeeded. Obviously there had to be a some way to extend the music a bit farther that just one or two measures using the same short collection of words, and that was another concern.
John is going to be so pleased to hear your performance (recording) of it. I am just as exited about this as he will be.