The musical piece “Birds in this Woman” involved (from left) singer Laura Aguero, poet Elizabeth Woody, composer Robert Nelson and Hector Aguero, a Willamette University associate professor. (Photo courtesy Hector Aguero)

A music conductor and a singer from Salem, a poet from Warm Springs and a composer from Texas combined their talents to create an orchestral piece embracing diversity that was performed earlier this year at Willamette University.

Now with a recently awarded $5,000 grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, money is available to bring the musicians back in September to produce a professional quality recording of the work.

The piece is expected to be released publicly in October.

“We applied for the grant because the university didn’t have the right kind of equipment to make a clean recording,” said Hector Aguero, the associate professor of music at Willamette who conducted the work.

The concert will be repeated “in a controlled environment with a professional sound engineer to make a digital recording that can be uploaded to YouTube and seen all over the world,” he said.

The plan also is to submit the performance to Portland’s All-Classical radio station that reaches more than 250,000 listeners, according to Aguero.

“Since the premier of the work in February, conductors of regional orchestras surrounding Salem have inquired about the piece and have expressed interest in future performances,” he said.

Aguero is excited that the release of the recording will bring recognition to the performers and to Willamette University.

The performance is titled “Birds in this Woman” and is based on the writings of Native American Elizabeth Woody, the former poet laureate of Oregon.

Her words were set to music composed by Robert Nelson.

The work consists of seven poems, each with its own movement. The performance takes about 20 minutes.

Each poem tells the story about a bird in Woody’s life. The poems are titled: “The Eavesdropper,” “Ravens,” “Feathers,” “How the Hawk Lives,” “Gifts,” “Whisper of Wings,” and “The Gentle Bird.”

The last piece is about an injured baby bird that Woody’s sister found when she was younger.

The idea for a chamber orchestral presentation of the poems developed when Nelson was in Salem for the premier of another work.

“I took Robert to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art and we were looking at Native American artifacts. We talked about how neat it would be to connect that art to the Native American people in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.

“While he was here, he got the inspiration to write a piece about something to do with Native American poetry,” he said.

Aguero let Nelson know that a recent poet laureate of Oregon was Native American.  Aguero sent Nelson some of Woody’s poetry, and Nelson picked the ones about the birds.

Woody’s publisher gave permission to reproduce the work as an orchestral piece.

Nelson and Woody were on hand for the performance in Hudson Hall at Willamette.

“I think she really enjoyed it as she hadn’t had her poetry set to music,” Aguero said. “At the end, she said she was pleased with the way it turned out.”

The performers included Aguero’s wife, Laura Aguero, a soprano, who has a private vocal studio and is the director of programs for the Oregon Symphony Association in Salem.

Nelson has written extensively for film, television and the theater. Currently, he is professor emeritus of music theory and composition at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston.

Aguero, who has been at Willamette for six years, is the artistic director of Willamette Pro Musica and the Willamette Valley Symphony, and he conducts the University Chamber Orchestra and Wind Ensemble.

The 35 Willamette Pro Musica chamber orchestra performers at the premier were students and faculty from Willamette. They were joined by musicians from Salem, Eugene and Portland.

“Willamette Pro Musica offers the rare opportunity for undergraduates to perform in a real-world professional setting alongside their music professors,” Aguero said. “And our ensemble also offers our faculty the chance to perform concertos with their colleagues and students.”

The total cost of the “Birds in the Woman” project was about $10,000. To help cover expenses along with the trust’s grant, the university received several donations plus a $5,000 grant from the Siletz Tribal Charitable Contribution Fund.

For information about donating to the university’s music program call 503-370-6255 or email: [email protected].

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