Pianist Sarah Cahill's 'Sweeter Music' is a Call for Peace

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In the wake of 9/11's anniversary comes a response to the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq from California-based pianist Sarah Cahill. Inspired by protest music of composers like Benjamin Britten, Malvina Reynolds and Paul Robeson, "A Sweeter Music" is Cahill's own musical protest via a compilation of commissioned works by composers whom she chose for having strong political convictions.

Terry Riley's Be Kind to One Another (Rag) is improv-inspired and has a rhythmic personality not unlike that of Xenakis's music. The composer writes, "[It] is a statement for peace... it does not aim for dramatic content, but strives instead to enforce a feeling of balanced equilibrium and compassion."

Meredith Monk approached her Steppe Music in the way that she writes for voice – stressing gesture and sound quality. It is subtle and dirge-like, but with an optimistic ending. 

Peace Dances, by Frederic Rzewski, had the original title of War Dances. "Peace was harder," he said. The piece uses sound effects and quotes traditional tunes. Spastic at times, Rzewski's work tells a full story and ends with a theme inspired by Pete Seeger's "Take it from Dr. King."

Kyle Gann's War is Just a Racket gains power from insight. The text is a 1930s speech made by General Smedley Butler about his negative experiences with warfare. Cahill's delivery is dramatic, and hearing a female voice portray a male general adds another element of interest.

What follows Gann's work comes from a drastically different sound world and is extremely haunting. Carl Stone's Sonamu portrays a post-war world complete with ghosts and phantoms by pairing the acoustic piano with a hum of utterly creepy electronics.

Phil Kline's colorful two-part piece The Long Winter has extremely vivid imagery thanks to his application of method acting to composition. It exposes a world under siege and a post-war world with coping citizens and the search for peace.

Avant-garde group The Residents make a guest appearance in Drum No Fife. "Gone are the good wars... and left in their place is the grey, drab reality of death, injustice, and intolerable waste..." says the group in the liner notes. It's intriguingly bizarre but Cahill's part is playful and oddly happy.

Advancing contemporary music is nothing new for Cahill, but it goes without saying that this project is as much an accomplishment for 21st century American composers as it is for peace.

Full disclosure: Featured composer Phil Kline hosts weekdays from 11am-1pm on Q2 Music. This audio will be available for one week.