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idioms | electric

Saturday November 11, 2023 - 7:30pm
St James Cathedral

65 E Huron St | Chicago


The 2023-2024 season is sponsored by the Katherine L. Griem and Anthony G. Montag Charitable Fund in memory of Anthony Montag.


Molly Jones

Conduction #5

Conduction #5 draws on the conduction systems of Butch Morris and Tyshawn Sorey.  The composer/conductor directs the ensemble with a sequence of hand motions indicating musical gestures, textures, pitch classes, and extended techniques, creating an improvised performance collaboratively.  The musical decisions of the composer/conductor and the individual members of the orchestra all contribute to each one-of-a-kind performance. - Molly Jones



D.J. Sparr | Maria Clark, soprano

Message to Our Sons

I am deeply honored to share the journey of creating "Messages To Our Sons," commissioned by soprano Maria Clark. The genesis of this six-minute, three-song orchestra cycle arose from our shared conversations and reflections on the challenges, guidance, and aspirations faced by the parents of Black boys. Maria and I, as parents ourselves, met and collaborated to explore this profound theme sparked by our shared experiences of parenthood. We are both the parents of an African-American boy. Of course, Maria's son is through birth, and my son is through a foster-to-adopt program.


Inspired by the powerful words of Principal Baruti Kafele from his YouTube series "Message to Your Son," we felt a pressing need to address the concerns and challenges Black men face. I wrote Principal Kafele to ask him if I could take excerpts from his series and turn them into lyrics for this cycle. He said yes! Kafele's words became a poignant bonding point for Maria and me, driving our commitment to bring these meaningful conversations to a concert audience. As parents, we grapple with the weight of responsibility and the desire to empower our sons in a world marked by both promise and adversity.


I. So Much, The Pressure

The opening movement, "So Much, The Pressure," conveys the immense weight of societal expectations and the internal struggle to conform. The repetitive phrases serve as a musical representation of the internal conflict and the quest for one's true self.


II. Inside Your Hand

In the second movement, "Inside Your Hand," the music emphasizes the power within, echoing the profound advice about the potential held within each young man's hand. This movement celebrates the resources, intelligence, drive, direction, motivation, and empowerment encapsulated in that powerful metaphor of the clenched fist, a Joe Louis fist.


III. Turn Up

The final movement, "Turn Up," takes on a vibrant and energetic spirit. Set within the confines of a gym, the music reflects the dedication and hard work needed to shape oneself physically and metaphorically.


"Messages To Our Sons" is scored for soprano and string orchestra, providing a rich and evocative backdrop for the powerful lyrical content. 


I am thrilled to contribute to the Chicago Composers Orchestra's mission and share this concert with you this evening. This composition is a humble testament to the enduring power of music and words, created to resonate with personal and shared experiences, emotion, and a call to action.


Learn more about Principal Kafele here.





The pressure 

The pressure to conform. 

So much, the pressure 

So much, the pressure to conform.

The pressure 

The pressure to comply. 

So much, the pressure 

So much, the pressure to comply. 

The pressure 

The pressure, as enormous as can be 

So much the pressure 

So much the pressure 

Ask yourself, 

“Is this pressure really me?”





Greetings young men, this is principal Kafele.

Take a look at that fist right here.

This Joe Louis fist,

which represents the power of clenched hands.

But let's go beyond the outside of the closed fist.

Let's go inside your hand.

Young men, everything you need is in your hand.

The resources, intelligence, and drive you need

Is in your hands.

Everything you need 

Is in your hand.  

All the direction, motivation, and inspiration you have.

Is in your hands.

All the empowerment you want

As in your hands.





You see behind me 

I'm in a gym today. 

I gotta work today. 

I gotta get myself in shape today. 

Because I put so much energy and effort 

Into my craft,

Into my work, 

Into my training. 

So, I'm here today 


I gotta get myself in shape 

I gotta keep myself in shape 

I gotta get myself in shape 

I gotta keep myself in shape 

So I can Do This Work. 


So, I got to turn up 

Turn up what I’m saying to you 

Turn up what I’m saying to you, young man.


You gotta turn up 

Turn up on your goals. 

Gotta turn up 

Turn up on your plan. 

Gotta Turn up 

Turn up on your 

purpose, your mission your vision. 


You got to live it. 

You got to walk it. 

You got to write it. 

You can't just talk it! 


So if you're here, 

Let's turn up 

so we can go here. 


And if you're here

Let's turn up so we can go here.

About the Soloist:


Maria Clark has been acclaimed for her virtuosic skills of expressive singing across the idioms of Opera, Oratorio, and Art Song, and has been critiqued as possessing “The Voice of An Angel”.  One of the most important aspects of her vocal abilities is her superb control of a very large instrument, all the while presenting a beautiful, rich, and layered voice.

In 2020, Maria Clark has been the soloist for several high-profile events and has successfully competed in vocal competitions.  She performed at the Progressive National Baptist Convention which included Stacey Abrams as the keynote speaker, and John Lewis and Andew Young as special guests.  Ms. Clark also performed at the Toni Morrison Memorial Concert in Atlanta, which was commissioned by the Toni Morrison Society, and has appeared on PBS performing in the Opera Goes to Church series. She is also the Oxnard Gold Medalist winner of the 2004 American Traditions Competition and was a winner in the West Palm Beach Opera competition. She has enjoyed performing opera throughout Europe and South America and has performed with opera companies and symphony orchestras.


Ms. Clark also released her debut cd of African American Spirituals arranged by Maria Thompson Corley, entitled "Soul Sanctuary" recently.  It hit number 27 on the Amazon Best New Classical Music charts and is available for purchase on Amazon and other major online music platforms.


She is the Senior Lecturer of Vocal Studies at Spelman College, and also instructs voice at Emory University.






Daron Hagen | D.J. Sparr, electric guitar

Film Noir: Concerto for electric guitar & orchestra

My most vivid musical association with the electric guitar and its sound world is derived not from rock but from fellow native Milwaukeean Les Paul, who I used to hear play his solid-body design live as a kid. I associate that sound with road trips, romantic ballads, spy movies, and film noir. Accordingly, Film Noir celebrates all four. D.J. Sparr sent me a couple of his favorite finger-picking patterns to get me started. From there I leaned into the road-trippy, Tangerine Dream feeling of Pacific Coast Highway, a rondo comprised of an ostinato, a lithe melody, and a crunchy groove. Les Paul’s intensely lyrical playing style inspired the guitar writing in Torch Song. John Barry’s cool, swinging scores for the Harry Palmer and James Bond movies are touchstones for You Should See the Other Guy. The final movement, Maybe Not Today, is a romantic second rondo that reaches toward the instrument’s acoustic roots before returning to the road; it is inspired by the final airstrip scene of Casablanca in which Rick tells Ilse, “If that plane leaves and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”  


I’m grateful to D.J. Sparr for his collaboration and enthusiasm in shaping the guitar part, and to the consortium of conductors and orchestras that joined together to launch the piece with D.J., including Erin Freeman and Andrew Litton and the Wintergreen Music Festival Orchestra; Allen Tinkham and the Chicago Composers Orchestra; Robert Moody and the Buffalo Philharmonic; Neal Gittleman and the Dayton Philharmonic; Troy Peters and the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio; Peter Wilson and the Westerville Symphony Orchestra; Matthew Aubin and the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra; and Thomas Heuser and the San Juan Symphony Orchestra.


About the Soloist:

Electric guitarist and composer D.J. Sparr, who Gramophone recently hailed as “exemplary,” is one of America’s preeminent composer-performers. He was the electric guitar concerto soloist on the 2018 GRAMMY-Award winning, all-Kenneth Fuchs recording with JoAnn Falletta and the London Symphony Orchestra. In 2011, Sparr was named one of NPR listener’s favorite 100 composers under the age 40. He has composed for and performed with renowned ensembles such as the Houston Grand Opera, Cabrillo Festival, New World Symphony, Washington National Opera, and Eighth Blackbird. His music has received awards from BMI, New Music USA, and the League of Composers/ISCM. Sparr is a faculty member at the famed Walden School’s Creative Musicians Retreat in Dublin, New Hampshire. His works and guitar performances appear on Naxos, Innova Recordings, & Centaur Records. D. J. lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his wife Kimberly, son Harris, Nannette the hound dog, and Bundini the boxer. D. J. Sparr’s music is published by Bill Holab Music.



About CCO

The Chicago Composers Orchestra presents music by living composers, extending the orchestral tradition to be open and vibrant, to speak to contemporary live and bring diverse people together.

We envision the orchestra as a powerful vehicle for contemporary music, filled with energy and purpose for composers, performers, listeners, and their communities.




Conductor, Music Director

Allen Tinkham


Violin 1

Hannah Spear* concertmaster

Rebecca Faber

Noah Jenkins

Violin 2   

Diana Ortiz*

Tony Krempa

Natalie Frakes



Traci Huff*

Christina Karakos

Elaina Huang



Meghan Lyda*

Roxanne Fritton


Bradley Modjeski


Lesley Swanson (piccolo)


Becca Dora (english horn)



Shaun Flynn*

Alessandro Tenorio-Bucci (bass clarinet)


Nyketa Marshall

John Pope


Aidan Alcocer*

Mitchell Hansen


Shane Courville


Colin Marusek


Kevin Yetter


Justin Peters

*denotes principal




Thanks to you, we are able to bring orchestral music by living composers to the Chicago community. The CCO is a non-profit 501(c)3 charitable organization. Support the CCO with a tax deductible at


The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE)

National Endowment for the Arts

The Paul M. Angell Family Foundation




The Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation

Aaron Copland Fund for Music

The Alice M. Ditson Fund

The Katherine L. Griem and Anthony G. Montag Charitable Fund

Kathleen Guarna

Brandon Harrington

Illinois Arts Council Agency

Rachel Manigault

The Saints

Jayne Swanson



Bruce Oltman




Seth Boustead

Linda Branscome

Cynthia Cheski

Deb DeVoe

Jessica Duffy

  In honor of Lesley Swanson

Geoffrey Fichtl

Kelsey Hanson

Wayne Kumingo and Michael LaFauce

Gustavo Leone

Daniel Lory

Geoffrey F. Lory

Josette Lory

Stephen Anderson

Paul Marusek

Aaron Rodgers

Scott Scharf and Dalia Chin

Nicole West



Anonymous (3)

Friends of CCO

Linda Berna

Matthew Corso

Amanda Kim

Ken Leng

Kelly Quesada

Gerald M. Rizzer



Ben Babbitt

Aleksandra Ciric

Patrick Cummings

Hans DeKok

Dan Galat

Emily Hartung

Christine and Glenn Hayes

Billie Howard

Chris Huff

Ilya Levinson

Dr. James Orr

Eva Sullivan and Layla Doss

Kelsey Wooley

Amy Wurtz


Board of Directors

Brandon Harrington, President

Kate Guarna, Secretary

Paul Johnson


Lesley Swanson, Executive Director

Randall West, Artistic Director

Jonathan Hannau, Artistic Associate

Allen Tinkham, Music Director

Erica Bittner, Development Director


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