Surround Yourself in Song

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Q&A with Rollo Dilworth


by Kayla Moore


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May Festival Magazine: As a Creative Partner with the May Festival, what is something you’re especially passionate about bringing to this exciting annual event?
Rollo Dilworth: I have a couple of objectives as Creative Partner. One is to do what I can to facilitate diversity of vocal and choral talent that Cincinnati has to offer—including various styles of music, generational diversity and a variety of cultural traditions. Another is to enable or support community engagement efforts of the May Festival by strengthening relationships with various community performing organizations, helping foster these relationships into future collaborations.

MFM: What trends do you anticipate for the choral art in the next ten years?
RD: First and foremost, the choral tradition will expand and highlight diversity, and emphasize the variety of voices that exist in the choral community. As we continue to experience challenges of choral music being available in school systems, there will also continue to be a need for community organizations to do their part to ensure that choral music remains a vital part of the lives of young people, and all people.

MFM: Having composed over 150 choral works, where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
RD: As an African-American composer, much inspiration comes from African-American folk music, mainly spirituals. In addition to this genre, a lot of my inspiration comes from the poetry of prominent African-American poets, specifically Langston Hughes and Paul Lawrence Dunbar—their words are passionate, powerful, and remain relevant in 2018.

MFM: What is your process for creating a concert program? Is there anything in particular that you keep in mind when building a repertoire?
RD: Variety, variety and variety! Most programs I create, I have a philosophical formula—I like to have music that represents the “classical” Western choral canon, but I also make sure that programming includes composers of color and woman composers. We need to make sure that those voices are heard and showcased. I also like to highlight uncommonly sung languages, as it is an opportunity for choruses to expand their horizons and encounter new cultures.

MFM: Some people feel there is no need to record classical and choral music anymore—that it’s all been done before. What do you say in response to that idea?
RD: That’s a good question—of course there’s always new and emerging choral music that’s being recorded, but in terms of the “war horses” of choral music, why record again? It’s simple—there are always fresh ideas and new perspectives that conductors feel should be preserved in recordings, and many consumers out there are interested to hear what specific ensembles have to say about certain pieces.