Punk Prayers

The Quince Season Opener: It Was Witchcraft on Sunday, November 22nd will feature some really 'punk' new music pieces in my opinion. One of them will be by Cincinnati-based composer, Jennifer Jolley, which will address the court proceedings of the infamous Russian punk band Pussy Riot in her piece, Prisoner of Conscience.

In February 2012, Pussy Riot performed (without being invited of course) "Mother of God, Drive Putin Away" at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior - check out the video below for clips from that notorious performance! Shortly after the show, they were charged and tried for 'hooliganism' and 2 members went to jail for 2 years. Human rights group, Amnesty International, later called them 'prisoners of conscience'.

Quince recently finished a residency at the gorgeous Avaloch Farm Institute in New Hampshire and focused quite a bit on this new work. We love its use of language, musical theatre, pop, reggae, The Clash, and early music to convey its universal themes of oppression, tyranny and even more important, triumph in the midst of persecution. Here's just a teeny, tiny snippet of the reggae-inspired movement, Police and Thieves!

I was able to ask Jennifer Jolley a few questions and to get her opinions on some of the themes addressed in this piece.

QCVE: What made you want to address this topic/this band in a song cycle for vocal quartet?

JJ: I'm always thrilled to work on topical projects; I feel it gives me the opportunity as an artist to create commentary on what's going on in the world. When I first heard of the arrests of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, I was appalled. Are Russians not allowed to cause disturbances or protests in a church? Apparently not. I believe we Americans forget we have this basic freedom of speech, and unfortunately this is not a universal world right. I hope this piece will remind us of the injustices that occurred toward these women.

QCVE: How did you come at this project compositionally vs previous commissions?

JJ: Well, Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk rock protest group who staged a protest performance in a church. So, I listed to a lot of The Clash, Pussy Riot, and Hildegard von Bingen. I approached this as one of my mashup pieces, emulating some songs in a punk style and some in a chant or motet style.

QCVE: How does this piece compare to other pieces you've written?

JJ: This piece fits with my other dramatic works that are topical, specifically my short operas about Paula Deen (Krispy Kremes and Butter Queens), the housing bubble (The Bubble). It also includes references to pop music (like my piece "Flight 710 to Cabo San Lucas," where I listened to tunes by James Brown for a week and waited to see how that would affect my writing. Now, this song cycle isn't an opera, but it's dramatic in its context.

QCVE: You use a lot of what some consider to be 'profane' language in this piece? (I believe the word 'fuck' is used 26 times...yea, we counted...)

Why is this integral to the work?

Whoa. Twenty-six times. I wasn't counting, but I was quite conscious about the word repetition in this piece. When writing my motet movements (I'm thinking specifically of "Putin will teach you how to love (the Motherland)," I was actually emulating the form of certain Thomas Tallis motets. The word repetition occurs in the latter half of the lines, and conveniently this word repetition imitated the political and religious sound byte that would, dare I say, fuck someone over.

That being said, this is a punk piece. Profane language must be used.


The world premiere performance of Jennifer Jolley's piece Prisoner of Conscience will be at Constellation Chicago (3111 N. Western Avenue)

on Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 8:30pm.

Photo by Karjaka Studios

Buy tickets here! (Oh hey, and you must be 18+ to enter!!!)

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