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Otterbein Professor Merkowitz chosen as Commissioned Composer for statewide conference

Otterbein Professor Merkowitz chosen as Commissioned Composer for statewide conference


When Associate Professor of Music Theory and Composition Jennifer Bernard Merkowitz was searching for inspiration for a commissioned piece, she found it in a very not-so-musical place.

“My kids were playing with a very out-of-tune ukulele and they began to play a melody that I decided to try on the piano,” Merkowitz said. “It sounded odd at first but has the amazing ability to change mood quickly.”

Merkowitz was selected as the Commissioned Composer for the 2017 Ohio Music Teachers Association (OMTA) Conference held from Oct. 12-14. Her piece, The Best of Both Worlds, premiered on Oct. 13 with the help of Otterbein Music Department faculty colleagues Suzanne Newcomb, piano and Steve Wedell, viola. Merkowitz was recognized by the association and gave a brief presentation on her piece.

“Suzanne Newcomb actually approached me last year and said I should apply to be the commissioned composer as it is exactly the kind of work I love to do,” said Merkowitz. “I then applied for the commission in December 2016 and within a month I found out they had decided on me. I was really excited and couldn’t wait to see where this could lead me musically.”

Merkowitz began by consulting with Newcomb, who is also a long-time member of the OMTA and current president, who she enjoys collaborating with on performances. Newcomb immediately responded that Wedell is one of her favorite musical partners at Otterbein, so Merkowitz began to think about writing a piece for piano and viola. Once she heard the ukulele melody, it began to take shape.

Both Worlds has chameleon-like abilities. What I mean is that with just subtle variations in scale, tone and notation on the same melody, the mood is altered drastically and can become something else entirely,” she said.

Merkowitz wrote The Best of Both Worlds as a way to express the two sides to most of our lives: home and work. At one moment, things are calm and satisfying and then the next crazy and frantic. It’s two different worlds that we all try to balance, and her composition tries to capture that dichotomy.

“OMTA didn’t give me any requirements or boundaries for this piece so I had complete freedom,” Merkowitz said. “It was a wonderful feeling to have that much confidence invested in me way before they ever heard the finished product. I was extremely proud to know people enjoyed my work.”

The Best of Both Worlds will be performed on campus by Newcomb and Wedell at their Faculty Recital with clarinetist Hild Peersen at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29, in Riley Auditorium at the Battelle Fine Arts Center, 170 W. Park St. The event is free and open to community.

Learn more about Otterbein’s Department of Music.