Composer combines old, new

For Eleanor “Nellie” Taylor, “Love is a Game that Ev’ryone Plays.” So says the title of a tune with

For Eleanor “Nellie” Taylor, “Love is a Game that Ev’ryone Plays.”

So says the title of a tune with accompanying lyrics she composed and published in the early 1900s.

A Schoharie County native, Taylor was a poet, artist, musical composer, writer and photographer who gained notoriety as a “free spirit.” She was the first woman to drive an automobile in the village of Schoharie — a 1903 Rambler — much to the dismay and shock of village residents. And she drove a Model T Ford from New York to California in about 1912.

Taylor, who kept a pet monkey, became the first female municipal chief executive in New York when she was appointed mayor to finish her husband Perry’s term of office after his death in 1940.

World premiere

Musical passages from Taylor’s sheet music along with those from two other mid-19th- and early 20th-century tunes once popular in Schoharie County have been incorporated into an original work, “Schoharie Triptych,” by Nicholas Anthony Ascioti. The world premiere performance of the piece conducted by Ascioti will be included in the program of Schoharie Valley Concert Band’s spring concerts at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Schoharie High School and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Cobleskill Richmondville High School.

Ascioti was commissioned by band director Martin Zavadil and the band’s board of directors to compose the original work.

Passages from the two other pieces Ascioti wove into his original composition are from “The Old Schoharie River,” for piano and voice, music by Henry C. Herbert with lyrics by D.A. Schermerhorn; and “Gov. Bouck’s Grand Quick Step,” a march composed by Oliver J. Shaw and dedicated to Gov. William C. Bouck, a Schoharie County farmer from the town of Fulton who became Governor of New York in 1843.

Original copies of “The Old Schoharie River” and “Love is a Game that Ev’ryone Plays” are archived at the Old Stone Fort Museum in Schoharie and will be on display during the concerts.

Diane Baltazar, the band’s principal oboist, had arranged a band composition of “Gov. Bouck’s Grand Quick Step,” which the band performed at its spring concert in 2005. Shaw’s original piano score for the piece was loaned from the Milton S. Eisenhower Library of Johns Hopkins University.

“Old Schoharie River,” composed in 1915, boasts a “vivid story of the [Schoharie] river in childlike simplicity so true to nature as the stream winds its way down the Catskill Mountains, fed by many springs of the pure crystal fluid and other streams tumbling down into the Schoharie from high cliffs swelling into a mighty current …”

A choral passage presents nostalgic images: “About the banks of the Schoharie River … There I played in childhood, sat on mother’s knee … vivid scenes and song birds ever dear to me, by the old Schoharie riverside …”

The “Old Schoharie River” lyrics and music contain “such beautiful and soul stirring sentiment that it should appeal to all hearts,” says a blurb on the sheet music.

Adding his voice

The intention of his composition “Schoharie Triptych,” said Ascioti, “was to incorporate the three earlier melodies that had these roots or ties to the region into my own musical voice. So what I did was start composing original music that was inspired by the region, and then after becoming familiar with the three earlier melodies wove them around my original composition.

“The process wasn’t too out of the ordinary other than having to use the already existing music and being mindful of doing more with it than simply taking what was piano music and just orchestrating it for concert band. I wanted to do more than that, tint it if you will with my own compositional voice which hopefully I’ve done.”

Ascioti noted that his style of composition may be somewhat more dissonant from classical-era music, creating a challenge for the band to “attain an understanding of what I have done with the music.”

“Schoharie Triptych” is Ascioti’s first professional composition for concert band.

Music progression

Zavadil noted in a e-mail that “in the seven years that I have been conductor, we have made fine progress in our goal of performing quality music for the residents of Schoharie County. I have learned much from taking a new composition and working on the interpretation of what the composer has written. I also feel that as a performing ensemble, we have a mission to help local composers get more public exposure to their works.”

Moreover, said Zavadil, “This new work will be a learning experience for our audiences as well. I am sure there will be those who may have difficulty understanding this work, but part of our mission is to educate our audiences. This work will be something not heard at our previous performances and would not become a steady diet for us to perform.”

Ascioti holds a degree in composition and conducting from The College of Saint Rose and a master of fine arts degree from Bennington College. In October 2006, he produced a CD, “Creation’s Voice,” on the Albany Records label.

He has received commissions from conductor David Alan Miller of the Albany Symphony Orchestra and the Society for New Music.

He is currently a composer-in-residence with the Society for New Music in Syracuse, where he participates in the “Composer in the Schools Program.”

As a conductor, he focuses on performances of the 20th-century choral repertoire.

Ascioti lives in West Sand Lake with his wife Emily and two daughters. He serves as director of music at the Burnt Hills United Methodist Church and teaches music at St. Jude the Apostle School.

Categories: Schenectady County

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