Tandem Alums Collaborate on Music/Poetry Creation

Grace Boyle (TFS '03)
Composer Mara Gibson (TFS ‘90) and poet Rebecca Morgan Frank (TFS ‘87) reconnected as most people do – online. They remembered each other from their Tandem days, but it wasn’t until Gibson attended one of Frank’s book events that they started their creative collaboration. 

“I do this a lot with performers; if I find a synergy with somebody, I keep working with that person because it’s so rare when there’s this dialogue between composer and performer,” says Gibson.

Frank had years of experience collaborating with composers, having her prose set to music and working within that shared space. Singers, musicians, or writers were always part of the process in Gibson’s compositions, so the collaboration came naturally to them both. 

“For this recent collaboration," Gibson shares, "we worked with two of her poems, which meant two very different things to her than they did to me – and that is art – we all see things differently, and celebrating those differences really allows us to get deeper into what we’re trying to say or figure out.”

Despite the challenges of COVID, Gibson and Frank collaborated over several months and finally debuted Gibson’s composition Galatea’s Dream, featuring poems from Frank’s books Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country and Oh You Robot Saints! You can watch the live performance here and learn more about Mara Gibson here and Rebecca Morgan Frank here.

More About Mara
Mara Gibson (TFS ‘90) has always been drawn to puzzles and visual conundrums. As a composer and professor of composition at Louisiana State University (LSU), Dr. Gibson leads students and audiences alike on the journey of mapping and creating the architecture for sound. In her role as professor, Dr. Gibson offers a creatively challenging curriculum that encompasses multimedia aspects from music theory and history to performance and collaboration. 

“There's no formula for teaching composition – if anything, it's about asking questions – it's me leading students to their own answers and that's similar to how we were taught at Tandem.”

In her work as a composer, she celebrates collaboration, creating soundscapes that draw together poetry, painting, and interpretations of space. There’s a synergy to collaboration that drives Dr. Gibson – a dialogue between performer and composer that can only be reached when creating in tandem. 

One recent collaboration is with fellow Tandem alumna, author Rebecca Morgan Frank (TFS ‘87), who teaches poetry at Northwestern University. Frank’s poetry has an evocative quality that resonates with Gibson’s composition style. Poems from two of Frank’s books, Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country and Oh You Robot Saints! are set to interpretive music in Gibson’s 2021 composition, Galatea’s Dream.

Galatea’s Dream has an asynchronous quality that is quintessentially Mara Gibson. Sounds masked into distortion, spoken words striated with orchestral notes, ensemble music punctuated by rhythmic breath. Her pieces are always experiential and intellectually rich. The ascending and descending of a painted staircase interpreted through music. The lunar phases of our moon reimagined in auditory form. Each piece is a sculpture of emotion and sensation. Her work is endlessly layered, challenging, and complex.

By challenging herself creatively, her work as a composer feeds her passion for teaching. She discovered her passion for teaching while at Tandem, teaching piano after school, and found that she not only loved it – but that teaching itself is a creative pursuit.

“I’m not the kind of teacher who is teaching in order to do their art on the side or to get health insurance – I’m inspired by my students. I love, love, love teaching. Especially undergraduates because they are so hungry and they haven’t had that moment yet where it all clicks. I help them get there.”

Dr. Gibson is currently working on her next ensemble composition. If you’d like to learn more about Mara Gibson’s work, you can find her at https://maragibson.com.

More About Rebecca
Rebecca Morgan Frank (TFS ‘87) has used writing as a lifelong practice of paying attention to what sparks her interest. Her research and writing process of “follow the curiosity” has produced four books and brought her teaching positions at such institutions as Brandeis University and Northwestern University.

Within Frank’s writing, there’s the tension of a seasoned observer. Her words form vessels that hold nuance and direct comparisons equally. Read aloud, her words take on new power – the cadence creates connection on and off the page. From the outside, good writing looks easy – but the practical aspects of being an artist have never eluded Frank. Writing takes resilience, and she credits her early years as a ballet dancer for familiarizing her with rejection. 

“The thing that you need to succeed in the arts is persistence", says Frank. "And I say this as a longtime teacher, too. You have to be able to keep going and that’s the real division of who ends up succeeding or not – do you give up?”

Even at Tandem, she was always writing in her notebook; it was a habit she never gave up. But it wasn’t until she took a free two-hour poetry workshop that she felt "there is room for the stories I want to tell." That workshop led to an MFA and doctorate in creative writing. Now, Frank is the one teaching people that there is room in the world for their stories. 

“My life is enriched by working with writers of all ages. I have students from 18 into their 70s. And working with someone in their 70s who is finally allowing themselves to explore poetry, it’s wonderful – they are having that moment I had in my 20s, and it’s a powerful moment.”

Poetry enriches people’s lives – reading it and writing it. And Frank regularly collaborates with other artists to expand her creative world and share the magic of poetry beyond her readership and students. Her recent collaboration with fellow Tandem alumna, composer Dr. Mara Gibson (TFS ‘90), is called Galatea’s Dream. Currently, Frank is following her curiosity and researching her next book. If you’d like to learn more about Rebecca Morgan Frank’s work, you can find her at www.rebeccamorganfrank.com and @poetmorgan on Twitter and Instagram.