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Westminster student premieres new work at Damien Dixon Scholarship Master Class

Westminster student premieres new work at Damien Dixon Scholarship Master Class

(PRINCETON, NJ) -- Westminster Choir College will host The Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship Master Class with Professor Ingrid Clarfield on February 25 at 2:00pm in Bristol Chapel on the Westminster Choir College campus in Princeton.  Proceeds from the event will support the Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded to an undergraduate piano student at Westminster. 

Created in memory of pianist Damien Dixon, who died in 2005 after a long struggle with cancer, the scholarship is awarded according to guidelines he suggested: that it go to a pianist “for whom the piano is more than just a major, a pianist who plays with imagination and personality and uses the piano to stir up the emotions of the listener." Throughout his short life, Dixon was heavily involved at Westminster.  He studied piano with Professor Ingrid Clarfield, and he accompanied many Westminster students.

Last fall, Professor Clarfield reached out to current Westminster senior piano and composition major John Franek to commission a new piece in memory of Dixon, to be premiered at the annual master class. For Franek, the opportunity to write such a piece was “an absolute honor and pleasure.” Franek is a recipient of the Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship, and he says he knew the general story of Dixon’s life, but not in great detail. After receiving the commission, he was eager to learn more about Dixon’s life and character.

Franek was able to gain this knowledge through reading Dixon’s extensive online blogs, as well as through conversations with his family. Dixon’s writing in particular helped Franek begin to understand his persona. Franek describes him as being “such a loving individual, and so funny too.” He notes how Dixon would refer to his cancer treatments as “chemo cocktails,” and his reference to the singers he accompanied as his “divas.” This insight was critical to Franek, who says, “It’s my job in this commission to integrate as much of Damien as I can.”

Franek’s composition is Piano Sonata No. 2 “Conquest,” after the title of Dixon’s final blog, which he titled D’s Conquest. The sonata’s movement titles all come from Dixon’s writing as well. Franek chose these snippets of writing to create a kind of found poetry, a style of poetry that extracts prewritten text and arranges it in a new way. Franek describes the title of the first movement, “And here I am,” as being a very genuine and sincere statement appearing in an otherwise lighthearted blog post. Franek sees this statement as representing a core element of Dixon’s character: that he was consistently there for others.

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In this composition as a whole, Franek tries to capture the essence of Damien Dixon from start to finish: his “simultaneity of playfulness, wisdom, and intelligence.” He hopes to convey in the sonata Dixon’s hopeful joy, appearing first in the beginning, and then returning in the final movement, when Franek will likely choose to quote one of Dixon’s own compositions. This will allow Franek to integrate, quite literally, a piece of Dixon into the composition.

To reserve a seat for the Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship Master Class, call 609-896-5340 or order online.

originally published: 2018-02-17 00:00:00

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