Kim Sherman is a composer whose music covers the spectrum of musical genres from opera to chamber and orchestral to musical theater. While earning a Bachelor of Music from the renowned Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University, she was a sought-after composer for the theatre department. After graduation, Ms. Sherman was accepted to study composition, orchestration and opera with Thea Musgrave in Santa Barbara, California. At the age of twenty two, she became composer in residence with The Illusion Theater Company in Minneapolis, composing scores, performing and touring with their productions. Her music caught the attention of conductor William McGlaughlin, who conducted two of her works “Sea Changes” and “The Moon Piece” with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
During her six years in Minneapolis, she was awarded an NEA Individual Artist grant for her chamber music, and two Kudos Awards for her theater scores. In 1983 she was commissioned by Joseph Papp to compose a new musical for The Public Theater in New York City. “Lenny and the Heartbreakers” was a groundbreaking work that incorporated analog and digital synthesizers, drum machines, vocoders and a rock-opera orchestra. Staged by the iconic choreographers Alwin Nikolais and Murray Lewis, “Lenny” pushed the boundaries of musical theater.
A recurring theme in Ms. Sherman’s career is collaboration. Whether with a librettist, singer, conductor, theatre director or instrumental ensemble, collaboration has been a driving force in her work and creative process. In 1989, she began a collaboration with playwright Darrah Cloud that continues to this day. Their first piece was an adaptation of “O Pioneers!” by Willa Cather, a story of immigrants who settled Nebraska. “O Pioneers!” is a hybrid music-theatre work, scored for Clarinet, French Horn, Accordion, Piano, Violin, Cello and Chorus. It was premiered at the Huntington Theater in Boston, filmed for American Playhouse and broadcast on PBS in 1990-91. “O Pioneers!” has received many subsequent productions including Center Stage in Baltimore, The Pioneer Theater in Utah, and TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, where it won the Bay Are Critics Circle award for Best Score in 1993. In 2001, The Acting Company created a notable production which toured throughout the United States and culminated with performances off-Broadway in New York City. Margo Jefferson wrote in the New York Times: “And in writing the score, Ms. Sherman made an inventive, unexpected choice. She didn’t take the usual route of producing lots of songs for individual characters. There were solos, but they were short. The score concentrated on choral singing, exactly what best expressed a community’s feelings about the land, all those years of hoping and working, and about aging and death. The instrumental music underscored and intensified the story.”
In 1992, while Ms. Sherman & Ms. Cloud were in residence to help mount a production of “O Pioneers!” in Kearney, Nebraska, they were inspired by stories of the great Native American warrior, Crazy Horse, who became the subject of their next music-theatre work. They spent the summer traveling through the Sand Hills of Nebraska and The Black Hills in South Dakota, meeting members of the Lakota tribe and absorbing the culture, the landscape and its rich history. Utilizing a combination of contemporary semi-operatic music and Native American vocalizations and drumming, the score creates a world that encompasses two cultures. “Honor Song for Crazy Horse” was produced by TheatreWorks in1994. It won the 1994 Frederick Loewe Award, and was presented by New Dramatists in New York City. Ms. Sherman adapted some of the themes from “Honor Song” to create “The Vision” for guitar and oboe, commissioned by, and part of the repertoire of Minneapolis based Klemp Kachian Duo.
Ms. Sherman met playwright Eric Ehn in 1993 at the height of the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were compelled to create “Service for the Dead” an a cappella oratorio, giving voice to the nameless. “Graveside,” the penultimate movement, was recorded by Musica Sacra, conducted by Richard Westenberg. “Graveside” has been performed by choirs throughout the United States and will receive its Australian premier in 2014.
In 2000, Ms. Sherman was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. The same year, she was commissioned by the San José Chamber Orchestra to compose a song cycle for Soprano Allison Charney. Adapted from the Old Testament, “Song of Songs” is a celebration of love. Sung in English and Hebrew, “Song of Songs” is scored for Soprano, Harp and String Orchestra. It premiered in 2001 and was conducted by Barbara Day Turner. Lesley Valdes wrote in the San José Mercury News: “The beauty of this piece consists of the rhapsodic nature of Sherman’s spiraling themes, the strong craft and lush scoring…” and Brent Heisinger wrote in Classical Music Online “Her rendering of each of the seven songs (surrounded by opening and closing songs) is powerfully lyrical and compelling.”
For the 2003 Pappoutsakis Foundation annual Flute competition, she was commissioned to compose “Karner Blue” for flute and piano. The music reflects the life of the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly, its beauty in nature, the joy of flight and the delicate balance between survival and extinction. “Karner Blue” is published by Falls House Press.
San José Chamber Orchestra once again commissioned Ms. Sherman in 2006 to compose a new work for Chamber Orchestra, Chorus, Soloists and Narrator. She teamed up with librettist Rick Davis to create “The Songbird and the Eagle.” Based an Indian Jataka (Buddhist) fable, “Songbird” puts forth the story of peace in the world attained through the small actions of each individual. Premiered in 2007 to great acclaim, The San José Chamber Orchestra and The Choral Project will perform it again in their 2014 season. Richard Schenin wrote in Mercury News: “Story and music are underscored by judicious piano figurations, punctuated by steady birdcalls of silvery flute and intensified through applications of timpani and bells . Concertmaster Cynthia Baehr performed lyrically in long-lined cameos. But all this only hints at the overall sound of Sherman’s musical language, which draws upon the golden-landscape imagery of Copland and the pure-hearted melody of musical theater. With its craggy, leap-about lines for the Eagle, it also pays homage to contemporary American opera; interpreted by Allison Charney, those lines are never far from song. Occasionally fed by jazz…the music is stocked with harmonies that embody the story’s emotional life.”
“Invocation” was commissioned by Allison Charney, Arts Ahimsa and The United Nations Global Peace Initiative of Women. It was first premiered on March 27, 2006 at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City. “Make peace on all your lands!” is sung in thirteen different languages. After choosing this phrase, Ms. Sherman reached out to many residents of her diverse neighborhood in upper Manhattan and collected every translation she could find in a five block radius. Originally written for Soprano, Flute, Violin and Cello, she re-conceived the work for orchestra in 2011. The new orchestral version of “Invocation” was premiered by the New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta.
For ten years she taught “Collaboration for Composers, Sound Designers and Directors” at the Yale School of Drama. And for the past sixteen years, she has been a volunteer composer and mentor for the 52nd Street Project, whose mission statement reads: “…to bring together kids from the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, with theater professionals to create original theater. The Project’s deeper purpose is to use the art form of theater to engage the children’s imaginations, broaden their means of expression, and increase their sense of self worth, their literacy skills and their appreciation for the arts.” Ms. Sherman’s current works-in-progress include an opera, a musical and a song cycle for tenor and string quartet.
Articles by Kim Sherman:
As a composer and a performer, Judith Sainte Croix bridged the world of New York City with the mountains of the West, and ran from the rivers of the South...