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Building a musical monster: Allentown Symphony seeks submissions and inspiration for 'Frankenstein' piece

Allentown Symphony Orchestra
Robert Cort
The Allentown Symphony Orchestra

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — What do you get when you have no limit on influences for a piece of music?

That's what Allentown Symphony Composer-in-residence Clarice Assad is trying to figure out — and she wants your help.

The Lehigh Valley community is invited by the Allentown Symphony to contribute a short melody, chord progression, instrument timbre or rhythmic pattern to inspire a musical piece to be composed by a new work by Assad.

She will take the contributed components and — much like Frankenstein's monster — reassembled into something that would have a new life of its own.

The deadline for all submissions is Sept. 6.

The symphony's submission form states that submissions should be no longer than four measures of music, and can be a written-out melody or chord progression, recorded sound of a short melody, instructions for a sound texture or a repeated rhythm pattern.

Submissions can be made online here.

Therapeutic, addiction potential

In fact, the title for the new work will be “Frankenstein,” which the symphony said in a release is "a metaphor for an assemblage of parts from various sources, stitched together to create a whole."

"But it’s also more than that," the release said. "Assad wants to deepen the story behind the music by asking submitting composers to consider how themes from Mary Shelley’s original 'Frankenstein' and the recent insertion of AI (Artificial Intelligence) into almost every aspect of life mirror each other.

"For example, in the story, there are many themes such as ambition, the pursuit of knowledge, and the consequences of playing God.

"Ultimately, the creature destroys his creator. Could the same themes apply to AI?"

"It's community building. But at the same time, it's trying to say, anyone can write music. Really, you can. And everybody's ideas are worthy. It's really about inviting people to be a part of making something, not just sitting back and listening to it."
Allentown Symphony Director of Education Silagh White

Assad has led community-wide participatory composition projects in the past with her pieces "Mosaic Variations" in 2022and "Tapestry" in 2023.

"It's community building," Allentown Symphony Director of Education Silagh White said.

"But at the same time, it's trying to say, anyone can write music. Really, you can. And everybody's ideas are worthy."

"It's really about inviting people to be a part of making something, not just sitting back and listening to it."

White said whether or not a listener hears his or her submission in the final melody, people should understand that all submissions will guide the piece to its completed form.

For the experiment, Assad said she would explore new avenues in the creative process, as well as how artificial intelligence could play a part in it.

"The best ideas often come from collaboration," Assad said.

Miller Symphony Hall Composer In Residence Clarice Assad
Jay Bradley
Miller Symphony Hall composer in residence Clarice Assad (left) with the hall's director of education Silagh White (right)

"When multiple people come together to brainstorm, they can build on each other's creativity and come up with more innovative solutions than anyone else could have done alone."

Therapeutic, addiction potential

The piece is set to premiere with the symphony orchestra April 26 and 27.

White said Assad will return to the Lehigh Valley in October to hold the Fall New Chamber Music concert, and will arrange composition sessions during that time so the public can see how the submitted "musical bits" are assembled into larger pieces.

Assad was appointed last fall by the Allentown Symphony as its composer-in-residence.

A Brazilian-American composer and Grammy Award nominee, Assad is tasked with leading workshops, connecting with local students, educators and artists and working with the symphony to introduce new ideas.

The symphony's former and first composer-in-residence, Chris Rogerson, joined in 2021, and during his two-year stint curated concerts, led educational sessions and worked with many local and regional musicians.