Listen: Eric Stokes on performance of his composition "Fireflies"

MPR’s Connie Goldman interviews Eric Stokes, Minnesota composer and assistant music professor at University of Minnesota, as he prepares the performance of his composition "Fireflies."


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CONNIE GOLDMAN: Eric Stokes is an assistant professor of music at the University of Minnesota. He usually writes serious and lengthy works. The Summer Nocturne, or Fireflies, as it's called, is a brief five-minute piece that's almost more theater than music.

Some of the students from the St. Paul Philharmonic music camp will participate in the presentation of the piece. They're the flashlight carriers. Just before the rehearsal began, I talked with Eric Stokes who explained some of this flashlight business to me.

ERIC STOKES: OK. Well, you can see what they're doing here. We're simulating the situation in O'Shaughnessy because we don't have-- we are not allowed in there to rehearse today. But all the students are the assistants.

The piece is composed for a number of instrumentalists. You pick any number you want above 14. That's my magic number.

My fairy godmother gave it to me. And I got to be careful about it. So above 14, you-- any number of people, of players.

Each player has an assistant who has a flashlight. And as you can see on the stands there, the kind of music they have is a large square page. And in each corner, there's a little bit of music. And the flashlight assistant points his light at one of those corners and illuminates it for just a second.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: The whole auditorium will be dark.

ERIC STOKES: Right. Right. And then, he moves it away, as you'll see in a second when we start practicing it, and turns it off so that the light is on for two or three seconds. And the instrumentalist plays that little fragment that he has just seen. And then, the assistant has to count for a while.

He has to count 19 or 14 or 11, or some magic number, before he goes through the cycle again. The result is an intermittent sparkle effect here and there of sounds and light. It's a simple idea, and it's a simple piece of music.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: I know you're giggling. And so am I. It's almost like you're putting me on. But I know it's for real.

ERIC STOKES: No, I'm not. It's just-- there's nothing pretentious about it. It's only about five minutes long. And it's just a little bit of fun.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

ERIC STOKES: Well, I hope so.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: We'll get to work and get everybody organized. And we'll see what it sounds like.

ERIC STOKES: All right. Yeah. You see we can put the lights out here. And we'll give it a try.

And we've rehearsed the assistants separately. And their technique with flashlights has improved vastly in the last few days. It takes some doing.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Where did you get this idea? A dream one night?

ERIC STOKES: I just had the idea in February. It's not the right time for fireflies. But-- so I wrote it up.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Saved it for summer.

ERIC STOKES: Yeah. Yeah.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Thanks Eric. Good luck.

ERIC STOKES: Thank you, Connie. Thanks a lot.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: The St. Paul Chamber music concert, which includes Eric Stokes's Fireflies, is Thursday at 8:00 at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium at the College of St. Catherine's. This is Connie Goldman.



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