COCOA Music introduces new works in chamber concert Sunday



Fostering the musical creativity of Miami Valley composers is the mission for COCOA Music, presenting a chamber concert of all new works at David’s Church in Dayton on Sunday, June 4.

“I call these living composers’ concerts,” said COCOA president Moira Levant. “It’s always very exciting to hear something from other composers that’s never been performed before. This time we have seven living composers with eight compositions. I firmly believe we need to have more avenues for expression, so people have a way of expressing themselves and not just in the competition arena. We’re more than willing to work with composers and to be friendly toward composers. It’s not a competition, it’s a collaboration. We want them to succeed.”



Theme and variations

In January, COCOA (Composers of Ohio Collaborative Organization for Acoustic Music) announced a call for scores. Local composers were encouraged to write new music based on theme and variations. The compositions had to feature one to five musicians as well.

“This concert was open to composers anywhere,” Levant said. “For this concert, the available instrumentation is violin, viola, cello, bass and piano, plus a musician available on clarinet, saxophone or flute and another on oboe, oboe d’amore or English horn. We make sure before we send out the call for scores that we have the musicians available. We don’t want to put a call for scores out and not have the players.”

Sunday’s concert features new works by Christian R. Berg, Gwen Brubaker, Gideon Brenner, Franklin Cox, Steven Cartwright, Brent Eresman and Levant, who is a musician, educator and composer. One of her recent original pieces, “A Little Fun,” won first place in the Ohio Federation of Music’s 2023 senior competition. The new piece she composed for this program was inspired by an Edward Elgar piece.

“It’s in the style of Elgar so it’s my version of the ‘Enigma Variations,’” she said. “My score is for five musicians, oboe d’amore, clarinet in A, viola, cello and bass. I wrote a set of eight variations on an original theme, but I don’t state the theme. It’s a really cool thing when the music comes like that. Handel talks about it when he was writing his ‘Messiah’ – it was like he was taking dictation. It just flows out of you. It’s a really great experience.”



Fresh talent

Cartwright, a retired physicist living in Washington Township, is making his COCOA premiere at this concert. His original composition, “Songs on My Mind,” was written for clarinet, violin, viola and cello.

“The piece is mostly new,” said Cartwright. “I had little pieces of things I had been working on in the past that I tried with it. I was able to stitch them all together in a little bit different way but there is new material. I pulled it together in January over a week or two. It kind of surprised me. I usually take a couple of years to write something.”

The St. Louis native has lived in the Miami Valley for 42 years. He said he became interested in composing in high school, but the idea took a backseat while he was working and raising a family. In 2018, he retired from his job as a radiation safety officer at Kettering Health Network, where he worked for 25 years. He also taught high school physics for a couple of years before finally retiring for good and turning his focus to composing.

“A couple of years ago I got a keyboard and composition software for my computer,” said Cartwright. “I could finally start putting things together and hearing how they sound at least as far as realization goes. I don’t have a lot of training, so I usually go laboriously note by note. I go through a lot of trial and error. I’ve been doing this by myself, and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to actually put something out in public. I’m excited but nervous.”

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What: COCOA Music, the Composers of Ohio Collaborative Organization for Acoustic Music, presents Theme and Variation

Where: David’s Church, 170 W. David Road, Dayton

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, June 4 at 3 p.m.

Cost: Free but donations are accepted

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