Stephen Eddins, composer

Stephen Eddins’ first compositions, written when he was nine, were songs for his church’s children’s choir, and music for voice has continued to be a significant part of his creative output.  A fascination with literary texts and the interplay between words and music has been a catalyst for much of his work.

After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in music from Oberlin College, he taught composition, horn and piano at École St. Trinité in Port-au-Prince, Haïti.  He attended seminary and served as a campus minister at Oberlin College and the University of Akron. He went on to earn his Master’s degree in composition from the University of Akron, and his Doctor of Musical Arts in composition from the University of Michigan.  His teachers include Randolph Coleman, Bright Sheng, William Albright, Evan Chambers, and Michael Daugherty.

He has received honors and awards from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the University of Michigan, the University of Akron, the Arts Council of Greater Toledo and the Masterworks Chorale, the Music Teachers National Association, Southern Region, and the North Carolina Music Teachers Association.  His compositions include commissions from Brave New Works, the University of Michigan Department of Theatre, Concordia University Department of Theatre, Out Loud Chorus (Ann Arbor), the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts, Wild Swan Theatre (Ann Arbor), and the Michigan Shakespeare Festival.

Works for theatre - including dance, incidental music, opera, and multi-media presentations - figure prominently in his output.  He has written incidental music for The Only Jealousy of Emer (Yeats), Sherlock Holmes (William Gillette), A Delicate Balance (Albee), Henry V and Macbeth (Shakespeare), The Investigation (Peter Weiss), and has led actors in creating their own incidental music for Beckett’s Act Without Words and Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.   His operas include Paranoia: A Psycho-Opera, text by Phillip Lopate, produced by Caterwaul! (Ann Arbor), The Doll’s House, libretto by Vincent de Tourdonnet, suggested by the short story by Katherine Mansfield, produced by Tapestry New Opera Works, Toronto, and Why I Live at the P.O. (in progress), libretto by Michael O’Brien and the composer, based on the story by Eudora Welty. A production of The Doll’s House at the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto, as part of Snappy Tales: Short Satirical Musicals, received seven 2003 Dora Mavor Moore Theatre Award nominations, including Outstanding New Musical and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition. The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance performed excerpts from Why I Live at the P.O. in 2009 in honor of Welty’s centennial year. In 2013 the Fort Worth Opera performed scenes from Why I Live at the P.O. at its initial Frontiers Festival. Critics described it as “clearly the hit of the entire Frontiers showcase,” and as “ready to roll, just about a guaranteed hit for any company that produces it.”

His catalogue also includes art song, choral music, music for liturgical use, orchestral music, music, music for children, and chamber music.  Pluto, commissioned by percussionist Joseph Gramley and organist Clive Driskill-Smith had its premiere at the AGO National Convention in 2012.  He has made a specialty of working with found instruments, both in his own work and in workshops and seminars on the cultivation of aural creativity. He has worked with groups of all ages, from pre-school to college students and adults, with special interest in people who have had little formal musical training.  He has been a contributor to The Opera Quarterly (Oxford University Press) and has been an assistant editor for classical music at All Music Guide.

The University Record

Beauty can be heard everywhere, composer says

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Stephen Eddins’ work gives a whole new meaning to the lyrics “Get out in that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans.” A doctoral student studying composition with Associate Professor of Music Michael Daugherty, Eddins divides his time between yard, garage and rummage sales and work in the music studio.

As a graduate instructor, Eddins encourages his students to hear beauty everywhere, especially in everyday objects. And to Eddins, those everyday objects include pots and pans, ceramic bowls, wine glasses, springs, brake drums, bolts and even metal roadside posts, from which he constructs chimes. His imagination just naturally turned to percussion sounds, Eddins says. He also writes for voices and traditional instruments. “The challenge for a composer is to combine these found sounds with conventional instruments to create new and unexpected sonorities.”

The sound of non-traditional instruments has fascinated Eddins for some time. With degrees from Oberlin College and the University of Akron, Eddins took about 10 years away from music to serve in campus ministries. But his fascination for sounds and impulse to compose became irresistible. For the past year and a half, Eddins has been haunting Ann Arbor’s PTO Thrift Shop and the Kiwanis Rummage Sale searching for “sounds.” There he tests frying pans, lids and various-sized pots by tapping them with his fingers or knuckles and listening for the resulting tone. “I’ve probably been to every junk and scrap metal place in Ann Arbor,” the composer says. He was able to find all those resources by once again using his fingers to “walk through the Yellow Pages.”

Eddins shops for wine glasses from which he says various sounds and tones can be produced by stroking them with a bow, striking them, or rubbing their edges with wet fingers. The pitch elicited from the glasses can be varied by adding different amounts of fluid, Eddins says. Eddins prefers to compose for dancers, theater productions and poets rather than for the traditional concert hall, favoring what he calls the collaborative process. His recent projects include incidental music forHenry V and Sherlock Holmes produced by U-M’s Theater Department, and Paranoia: A Psycho Opera produced by the students in the School of Music.

                  AT THE P.O.       MUSIC