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ArpaViva CD008: 

Shirley Meyer Blankenship

Shirley Meyer Blankenship, harp
Rudolf Haken, viola

HARPINATIONS is a collection of four works which epitomize Shirley Meyer Blankenship’s life long passion for harp.

Shirley Meyer Blankenship is an American composer, harpist, pianist, violinist and music educator. In 1977 she became the first woman to receive a Doctorate in music composition from the University of Illinois. Her works for solo harp Metaphysical Waltz (1988) and Peace for Guidosan (1989) will astound you with the richness of her acoustic harp sound in music which is action – packed, permeated with wide leaping disjointed formulations, gestural and improvisational, nostalgic and mocking, tonal and atonal.

Works for viola and harp, Fantasy I, (1963) and Fantasy II, (2014) feature the internationally renowned violist and composer Rudolf Haken, professor at University of Illinois. In these two works, Shirley Meyer Blankenship’sprofound knowledge of writing for strings shines through. She offers the viola’s sensuous lyricism while exploring a riveting virtuoso interplay between the two instruments.

In the degree of compositional excellence and the importance for the harp repertoire, works by Shirley Meyer Blankenship match Betsy Jolas’ Tranche, (1976) Luciano Berio’s Sequenza II, (1963) and George Rochberg’s Ukiyo E I (1973)

Shirley Meyer Blankenship was born in Decatur, Illinois, in 1938. A former child music prodigy, composer, harpist, pianist, and violinist she remained deeply rooted in the Illinois music community where she played in the orchestra, taught harp and composition, premiered new works for harp and often performed jazz, under the name of Anne Jazzmin with her late husband, saxophonist and composer Guido Sinclair.

HARPINATIONS offers to the listener Shirley Meyer Blankenship’s rich palette of acoustic harp colors in music the composer performs naturally with that specific precision and clarity of sound to which harpists aspire to achieve through years of study and practice.

In 2013 Shirley Meyer Blankenship launched The Harp Legacy Project, www.theharplegacyproject.com consulting website to share the graphic notation for harp extended techniques she uses in her music and to assist composers writing for harp and other string instruments.

Audio Information: 
Metaphysical Waltz, and Fantasy I and Fantasy II were recorded in 2014 by Michael Miller, Urbana, Illinois. Peace for Guidosan was recorded in 1988 by Mark Rubel, at the Pogo Studio, Champaign, Illinois, and was later digitalized by Shirley Meyer Blankenship and Paul Weston. For this release works by Shirley Meyer Blankenship were remastered for Arpaviva Recordings by Hans Dekline, Los Angeles, California.

Composers web site:

Rudolf Haken’s web site:

Guido Sinclair and Shirley Meyer Blankenship

Fantasy I – for harp and viola

Initially Fantasy I was entitled “Fantasy Stuck” and was written, in part, as a tribute to Herb Vandenberg, then principal violist of the St. Louis Symphony. In 1961-2 Professor Vandenberg was on the faculty of Washington University where I was studying piano with Stefan Bardas and composition with Harold Blumenfeld. Although I had a disdain for serial composition, due to the mandated rigid applications of its row techniques, I nevertheless found the sounds generated by the processes to be unique. Consequently, I ventured forth with this composition, now entitled Fantasy I, using a non-tonality based harmonic vocabulary suggestive of serialism.

Fantasy II – for harp and viola

Another violist entered my life in 2010 via his composition, Quinquagenarium, written for and performed by The Champaign-Urbana symphony Orchestra at its 50th anniversary concert in Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

At the time, I was principal harpist with the symphony and used the opportunity to edit the harp part in collaboration with the composer/violist, Rudolf Haken. Rudolf thereby became one of my first Harp Legacy Project clients. As tribute to Rudolf, I composed Fantasy II utilizing newly created harp effects and notations as well as traditional configurations and focused on the types of sound structures shared by both the harp and viola: glissandi, harmonics, tapping sounds, and pizzicato. It is, in part, a visual theatrical piece with musical and visual structures that suggest a dialogue based on “if you can do that, so can I”.

Metaphysical Waltz – harp solo

I composed this avant-garde harp solo in 1988. It was my intention to demonstrate that harpists can deal with complex material and that, although notation may seem on the surface to be inaccessible, in reality, it can be quite idiomatic. The title, Metaphysical Waltz, evolved from the use of 3 as an underlying rhythmic structural component. The most obvious illustration is the use of ¾ time as in a Waltz. Since the Waltz aspect is not audibly apparent, it exists only in the abstract.

Peace for Guidosan – harp solo
Peace for Guidosan was originally written in 1988. In 1992, my husband Guido Sinclair, jazz saxophonist/composer, passed away. In collaboration with Michael Miller, notation designer and engraver, Peace was eventually revised and rendered into Finale in 2014. It can now be heard as the accompaniment for a film on YouTube entitled “Final Embrace”, a tribute to my early years in Quincy, Illinois. Stylistically, Peace is a stream of gestures.Shirley Meyer Blankenship
May, 2017

Composer and harpist Shirley Meyer Blankenship (b.1938. in Decatur Illinois) was the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Musical Arts Degree in Music Composition in 1977 from the University of Illinois. Among her compositions are: Chansons Innocentes, (1970-71), for soprano, harp and chamber ensemble, Fantasy for Viola and Harp I, (1963), Fantasy for Viola and Harp II, (2014), Peace for Guidosan (1989) for solo harp, Duo for Violin and Cello (1974), Metaphysical Waltz (1988) for solo harp, Terse Trio (1970), for violin, viola and cello, Visions and Revisions (1975) for 22 players.

A true music prodigy at age 4, Shirley Meyer (Blankenship) studied piano, violin and harp and already, at age 13, performed Introduction and Allegro for harp and ensemble by Maurice Ravel at the Notre Dame High School in Quincy, Illinois.

Awarded the Smith Music Scholarship from the University of Illinois she received a Bachelor of Music Degree in piano in 1961 and then began her studies in composition with Harold Blumenfeld at Washington University in St. Louis where she received a Master’s of Music Degree in piano.

In 1969, Shirley Meyer Blankenship received Master’s Degree in Music Theory at the University of Illinois. During 1965-69 while at the University of Illinois, she studied composition with Gordon Binkerd and Tom Fredrickson and was extensively involved in the performances of new works primarily as a harpist. She began her graduate studies in composition in 1970 with Professor Robert Kellyat the University of Illinois. After the premier of her Chansons Innocentes, in the Great Hall of Krannert Center, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois in 1971, coupled with her prior harp performance of Alla Rustica for flute and harp by Andre Jolivet, she received an invitation to join the University of Illinois faculty with a split appointment as the chairman of the harp division and instructor of music theory. Her doctoral composition Visions and Revisions for 22 players was premiered in Smith Music Hall in 1975 and was conducted by Tim Bobinsky. She has been the harpist for the Decatur Symphony and the principal harpist with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony in which she has participated as a violinist, violist and keyboardist as well. 

Dr. Blankenship has collaborated extensively with composer Robert J. Martin. His composition, The Owl and The Pussycat for flute and harp, was recorded in 2009 (Beauport Classical). She participated as a consultant and recording artist, along with pianist/composer Neely Bruce, for Playful Edge of the Wave, piano music by Robert J. Martin (CD-Ravello Records #RR 7909) released in 2015. Additionally, Dr. Blankenship was the string consultant for the monumental string quartet work entitled Embrace the Wind now also available on Ravello Records.

Rudolf Haken, viola professor at University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign is a composer and violist internationally renowned for his creative melding of disparate musical styles and genres. He is particularly known for his work with extended-range violas, appearing in concert on four continents with his Rivinus five- string viola and Jensen six-string electric viola. Haken has been a featured performer of contemporary music at conventions of the Society of Composers, Inc., Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, and American Composer’s Alliance in New York City, as well as in recital at the Studio für neue Musik at Universität Siegen (Germany), Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien (University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna), SalleJacques Brel in Montigny-le-Bretonneux (France), Conservatorio Oficial de Música in Cáceres (Spain), and Yıldız Teknik Üniversitesi in Istanbul, University of York (UK), University of Toronto, and Queens University (Canada). Among Haken’s recordings of contemporary music is a Capstone Records release of viola works of Matthew Davidson. 
Shirley’s harp and bench