Cheryl Cooney (photo submitted)

Red Deer composer Cheryl Cooney creates a “sesquie” for the nation

Toronto Symphony Orchestra performs her near-palindrome

Red Deer composer Cheryl Cooney wrote a two-minute melody in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday that was played by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra this month at Roy Thompson Hall.

Her so-called “sesquie” (short for sesquicentennial, or century-and-a-half) was performed on April Fool’s Day on April 1.

“I was hoping it wouldn’t go over as a joke — and it didn’t,” said Cooney, with a chuckle.

In fact, a Toronto concert reviewer was very impressed with her short fugue with the lengthy title of Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to (a) new era? He called it “clever and humorous,” before praising the Beethoven violin concerto that was also performed the same night.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra had commissioned 40 short tunes from Canadian composers after receiving a Canada 150 grant. The idea was to partner with professional orchestras across the country to showcase the wealth of national music talent.

Cooney said someone from the Toronto orchestra contacted Claude Lapalme, conductor of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra, asking for a referral to a local composer. And Lapalme passed on her name since she’d written numerous pieces that were previously performed by the RDSO.

The retired Red Deer College instructor, who’s produced, performed as a pianist and recorded around the world, spent a month working on this latest composition. Her “sesquie” is not a perfect palindrome — as is reflected by the parenthesis in its title — but the melody does turn back somewhere around the middle and appear to reverse itself.

Cooney said she wrote the composition based on the numbers one, five and zero. It’s based on the notion that if Middle C is zero, then C-Sharp, one note over, is one, and F, five notes over, is five, etc.

“I kept counting up,” said the Red Deer resident, who admitted “it was a very arbitrary way to compose,” but worked fine for a tune that needed be concise and straight-forward.

“The musicians didn’t have any problems with it. There was the odd question, but it moved forward very well,” said Cooney, who felt honoured to sit in Toronto’s famous concert hall with her husband and hear her melody performed by the TSO.

Cooney, who got much positive feedback, believes it was also wonderful that Are we not drawn onward… was first played by the RDSO concert at its March concert.

Both orchestras did a fantastic job with the piece, she said. “It was really nice to have that experience.”

The 40 new pieces will be played by the TSO throughout the year and are being recorded. For more information about the project, please visit the orchestra’s website.

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