Shawn Brogan Allison, Composer

Composer and saxophonist Shawn Brogan Allison is dedicated to exploring the expressive and communicative possibilities of new concert music in all of its manifestations. His work draws inspiration from anything that seems appropriate and some things that don’t, including multiple musical traditions, the music of composers from a multitude of epochs and musical styles, creatures and objects in the natural world, man-made things, and ideas and fictions both practical and metaphysical. He tries as hard as he can to come to the blank page with open ears and a long memory.

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The Age of Catastrophes, and the Upcoming Season

September 12, 2014

Dec. 6th, 2013 was a good day. My piece, The Age of Catastrophes, for mezzo-soprano, baritone, string quartet, piano, and fixed media, was premiered at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Chicago. It was an intense, exhilarating experience, and the piece went over very well. The piece was commissioned by KAM Isaiah Israel and the Rabbi Arnold J. Wolf Memorial committee, and was written in memory of this extraordinary religious leader, orator, scholar, and teacher. The piece featured archived recordings of his sermons quite prominently, and for many in the audience, it was the first time they had heard his voice since his death five years earlier at the age of 86. Some had never heard him speak. With that in mind, I was proudest of the fact that those who didn’t know him seemed just as deeply affected by his words as the ones who knew him their whole lives.

The performers at the premiere were top-notch across the board. Julia Bentley and Alan Dunbar sang the Hebrew text of Isaiah and Job resplendently, their rich voices at times presenting the fullness of a small choir. Spektral Quartet played with incredible focus and nuance
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Current Projects

I Won’t Be Here Long, for Wind Ensemble

I’m working on a piece for a consortium of collegiate wind ensembles led by Heidi Miller, who is now on faculty at Gustavus Adolphus College. The consortium includes colleges across the country, from MIT in Cambridge, MA to UC-Berkeley, to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. This is my first time composing something for more than one ensemble at a time—I’m used to picturing the group I’m writing for, and often listen to recordings of those groups or individuals in order to get my ear into their sound. Well, that’s basically impossible in this scenario, but it’s also an exciting challenge that I’m having a good time with.

I Won’t Be Here Long will be a 6-8 minute piece for a small wind ensemble (ca. 28 players), and will be a meditation on American labor. The title is a line from a work song on a Library of Congress field recording from 1939, about “quitting time,” and was sung at the end of a long work day. I plan to draw heavily on the sound as well as the indelible emotional impact of these field recordings, in addition to big band jazz from the 50s and 60s, and the haunting sonorities of train whistles. It will be premiered in the winter and spring of the 2014-2015 school year at colleges and universities across the country. More details regarding their performances will be posted in the Events section of this site when that information becomes available.

Featured Recordings

Live Performance by eighth blackbird

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for two alto saxophones, mallet percussion, and piano

live performance by Zach Herchen, Philipp Stäudlin, Ryan Packard, and Aaron Likness, June 26th, 2011

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