Reprint from the Carroll County Times, April 20, 2001

Commissioned to write music

By Stephen Snyder
Times Staff Writer

Lorraine Whittlesey sits in front of a grand piano in Western Maryland College's McDaniel Lounge.

Surrounded by portraits of the college's past presidents, Whittlesey bursts into the piece she recently wrote for the inauguration concert of WMC's newest president, Joan Develin Coley, on Sunday.

The notes reverberate through the small dorm lounge. But about halfway through the song, she stops.

"It's really meant for a cappella voices," she says, "not piano."

Earlier, she heard the Western Maryland College Choir practice her original piece, "A New Song for Psalms," in Baker Memorial Chapel on campus.

She's been at the school the entire day as an artist-in-residence, visiting classes and talking to students about things like publishing ownership and performing-rights organizations.

She knows a lot about these subjects, because she makes her living writing music.

"Most of what I write is on commission, like this song," she says about "Psalms," which the college asked her to write for the occasion.

Whittlesey has also premiered original pieces at Carnegie Hall. Her music has been performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the U.S. Navy Choir, Concert Artists of Baltimore, and the Peabody Children's Chorus.

Whittlesey began playing piano at 3 or 4 years old and was classically trained. About the same time, she caught the entertainment bug after being a member of the peanut gallery on the Howdy Doody Show. In the early '80s she performed with a New Wave band, The Lines, and traveled to California to study television and film scoring at UCLA.

When writing a piece of music on commission, Whittlesey says, context is important. She researched and used traditional Chinese instruments for a piece she wrote for the opening of a Walters Art Gallery exhibit on the first emperor of China.

For a piece used in the Navy's dedication of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Whittlesey researched the former president's writings and based her lyrics on them.

Since the theme of the inaugural concert is the growth of the Western Maryland College music program in the past decade and its outlook for the future, Whittlesey selected verses from Psalms that call for the singing of a "new song" as the basis for the lyrics.

Whittlesey hopes to do more with the college in the future. For now, though, she is thrilled to play a role in this historic event for the school.

"[The song] sounds like it's coming together," says Whittlesey after hearing the college choir practice. "I'm excited to hear it."

Reach Stephen Snyder at 410-857-7862 or email him at snyder@lnciofmd.com.

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