Dean’s poem gets new life on Temple University stage

On Oct. 9, “Music Box,” a choral performance piece inspired by a poem written by Susan Albertine, dean of the School of Culture and Society, premiered at Temple University. “Music Box” will be performed again Nov. 8 at Temple University and Feb. 18 at an American Choral Directors’ Association (ACDA) conference held in New York City.

The piece, which Albertine described as “charming and romantic,” was well received by the audience at its debut.

The work is expected to have a life outside of these three performances. Albertine said that the score has been published and will be sold. “We think it will have a life among college choirs,” she said.

At the ACDA conference in February, several hundred choral directors are expected in the audience.

This performance will give the piece some extra exposure and may boost its popularity.

Albertine used a childhood memory of an old cigarette case music box to craft the lyrical poem.

She said seeing her work transformed into a real life performance was a “reward for a lot of years of fooling around with poetry as an amateur.”

Albertine composed the poem at the request of Cynthia Folio, an associate professor of music theory at Temple. Folio had been asked by Alan Harler, chair of the Temple music department, to create a piece which involved music boxes.

Harler was struck by the use of music boxes in “When the Spirit Catches You,” one of Folio’s previous pieces.

When he asked her to compose another piece involving music boxes, Folio asked Albertine to write the poem. She told Albertine not to think about the music and choir that would be used in a performance when writing the poem.

Albertine’s entire poem is contained in the score.

Folio did, however, take some liberties with it, Albertine said.

Leo Muchnik, freshman political science major, was proud to hear of the dean’s accomplishment.

“It’s good to see that our school has an intellectual and diverse staff leading us,” he said.

The poem describes a music box from many angles, telling not only about the physical aspects of the music box but of the emotions and wonder attached to it. “The poem has a light side and a serious side,” Harler said.

The performance itself opens in the middle of a line. Albertine said that this was done to mimic an actual music box, since when you open a music box you never know exactly where the music will start.

Each member of the choir holds a music box during the performance. These music boxes are all playing at one point. At the end of the piece each choir member shuts his or her music box one at a time, until only one is left playing.

Albertine has fond memories of the music box that inspired her, which belonged to her grandmother and smelled of tobacco.

She recalled that all of the workings of the cigarette case music box were easily seen and examined.

Albertine said that as a child she had to be careful when playing with the music box, or else she would get in trouble. She still has that music box today.