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Keane Southard, composer of ‘An Appalachian Trail Symphony: New England (Symphony No. 1).’

People have so many different sides to them! My friend Ann — retired human resource professional, acclaimed textile artist, and hiker — told me recently about a pianist-composer-hiker who conquered the New England portion of the Appalachian Trail and then wrote a symphony about the experience. As I write, I’m listening to this wonderful piece online.

In a 2018 broadcast, Mary Engisch at Vermont Public Radio (VPR) shared part of Southard’s story in a podcast.

Keane Southard,” writes Engisch, “spent many of his childhood weekends hiking and camping with his family in New Hampshire and Vermont. From that early age, he imagined one day he would hike the legendary Appalachian Trail.

“Southard went on to study [music] composition and theory, and all the while, the idea of hiking the trail and composing a piece about the experience percolated in his mind.

In April [2018], Southard completed ‘An Appalachian Trail Symphony: New England (Symphony No. 1),’ inspired by his 66-day, 734-mile hike of the New England portion of the trail.

” ‘I entered the trip knowing I [would] write this piece afterwards, but kind of having a blank slate to start off, and to have the music and the ideas come out of my experience,’ Southard said.

“In this podcast, learn about … how he transformed the trail sounds of footsteps, buzzing bugs and bird songs that he heard along the way into this composition for orchestra.”

Southard tells Engisch, “I’m really inspired by New England. I grew up in Massachusetts, and my parents took me and my siblings on so many trips up to New Hampshire and Vermont. And it wasn’t until leaving New England and going off to school that I realized how much this region is ingrained in me and how much I love it.” More at VPR, here.

At Southard’s website, he writes about the symphony and some of his other compostions.

“In June, I found out that my orchestral work Titanium and Mercury (which is the first movement of my in-progress second symphony but extracted as a stand-alone work) [won] First Prize in the [Eastern European] 2nd International Michal Kloefas Oginski Symphony Orchestra Contest for Young Composers! I’ve never won first prize in an overseas competition before, so it was great to hear this news! 

“The jury told me that my piece really reminded them of Prokofiev (which is a bit surprising to me) and it looks like the piece will be scheduled to be premiered in Molodechno, Belarus, in spring 2021!

“Just last week, on August 10, I had my first performance since February when the British pianist Maria Marchant gave a beautiful premiere of my Prelude No. 17 (For the Left Hand) in London, UK as part of her ‘7 Notes in 7 Days at 7pm’ project.  

“Back in April, I was fortunate to have pianist Adam Marks record a video of my Prelude No. 18 (On the Day of Penderecki’s Death) as part of his ‘One Page Pieces’ project.  As the title suggests, I wrote this short work (about 30 seconds long) on the day I heard that legendary Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki passed away at the end of March.  While not a ‘threnody’ for him, I was thinking about him as I wrote the piece.

“In April, I also found out my Missa Brevis for Choir was awarded the Belle S. Gitelman Award from the composition department here at Eastman.

“And way back in February before the pandemic hit, I was lucky to have a reading of my wind ensemble transcription of John Foulds’ wonderful piece April-England with the Eastman Wind Orchestra led by David Baker.”  More here.

You might also like to check out an interview Southard gave to the Claflin Hill Symphony, here.

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