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Higdon — A Notable Woman

March 6, 2013 - Phyllis Sigal
Jennifer Higdon — the Wheeling Symphony's composer-in-residence this week — is as down to earth as they come.

As she was being introduced at a luncheon today for Wheeling Symphony board members and donors, you could see the embarrassment on her face as her accomplishments — so very many and so notable — were listed.

Humble doesn't even begin to describe the composer, whose piece, Concerto for Orchestra, will be performed Friday, March 8, by the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra.

As I was carrying my coat and my husband's coat to hang up in the coat room, she asked, "Can I help you with that?"

"I should've hung YOUR coat up," I told her.

Oh, no, she said. She's used to doing it all. From moving grand pianos from rehearsal space to writing the notes that a pianist will play on that instrument. She's even been mistaken for the valet at a concert hall.

In fact, the day she was mistaken for the person parking cars on her way to a concert talk was shortly after she won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for her Violin Concerto.

That was a "clarifying moment," she said.

"Everyone is responsible" for the music, she said. From the guy who turns on the lights, to the musicians who play the music, the maestro who conducts the orchestra and to those who support the arts, she said.

"I can't do my job without the maestro and musicians. I put notes on a page. But it doesn't matter if no one plays it."

And everyone in her life has been on that journey to the Pulitzer with her — from her high school band teacher to the symphony supporters.

"To get a Pulitzer, it takes a village, to borrow from Hillary Clinton," she told the audience today. "The Pulitzer belongs to everyone along on the journey."

Along with the Pulitzer and many other awards she's received on her musical journey is a Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in January of 2010 for her Percussion Composition.

Lucky for the Ohio Valley, the public will have several chances to get to know Higdon in the next couple of days.

• From 9-10 a.m. Thursday, March 7, she will be part of a live webinar Q&A from the West Liberty University television station. The webinar can be seen live and then will be available for upload.

• From 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Thursday, March 7, she will be on the Capitol Theatre stage discussing "At the Intersection of Art and the Community" at a town hall event. The symphony percussion section will perform, and a light lunch will be served. Audience members will be seated on the stage for this event. (Cool, right?)

• At 7 p.m. Friday, March 8, she will be at Concert Talk in the Capitol Ballroom, prior to the 8 p.m. concert.

And at Friday's concert, it definitely will take an orchestra.

Higdon explained that her Concerto for Orchestra "shows off everybody." There are some 60,000 notes in the piece, she said, and many, many solos, giving the orchestra members "a chance to sing out."

"Art is not a solitary thing," she pointed out, noting that it's obvious here in Wheeling that the community is very involved. She thanked those at the luncheon for being part of her journey to the Pulitzer Prize and to the Grammy Award.

Her notes on the page would make great "wall art," she said, if there was no one to play them, if the village didn't come together to make the music, to make art happen.

"I'd park cars if it helps," Higdon said.

And there wasn't a person at today's luncheon who didn't believe her.

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