CMU poet’s words transformed into music

English professor gives talk at prominent national museum and hears his work performed live

Central Michigan University English professor and poet Robert Fanning visited Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, January 20th to lecture with nationally-prominent composer David Biedenbender about the emotional impact of poetry and music.

Inspired by Fanning’s recent poem “Infinity Room,” Biedenbender composed “in a field of stars,” a new 7-movement piece. Following their talk, Khemia Ensemble, an esteemed contemporary classical collective, performed the piece before a packed audience.

Fanning said his poem was sparked by the “infinity room” installations of internationally-renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, one of which is on permanent display at Crystal Bridges. The piece also appears on an album called “Intersections,” recently launched on Ravello Records and available on all streaming services.

“It is an incredible honor, to hear one’s own words set to music and sung in such a breathtaking setting,” Fanning said. “The poem was inspired by music and visual art, and takes on a whole new life translated again into new music.”

This isn’t the first time Biedenbender found inspiration in Fanning’s work. They also collaborated on “Severance,” a concerto based on Fanning’s book of the same name. It was commissioned by the U.S. Navy Band and has been performed nationally, including for an audience of several thousand in Chicago December 20th at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.

Their most recent collaboration, “All We Are Given We Cannot Hold,” features compositions of seven of Fanning’s poems and shares its title with his new manuscript. Premiering recently in Texas, it will be performed March 13th at Michigan State University’s Cook Recital Hall.

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