Lembit Beecher, composer-in-residence of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, introduces "Say Home", an original composition he wrote in collaboration with University of St. Thomas English faculty, Todd Lawrence and Chris Santiago, at the Ordway Concert Hall in downtown St. Paul on February 24, 2019.

English Faculty, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Collaborate to Explore 'Home'

It’s not every day St. Thomas community members get to collaborate with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO). That’s exactly what English faculty Todd Lawrence and Chris Santiago got to do, though, as they teamed with the orchestra’s composer-in-residence, Lembit Beecher, to create a completely original piece.

“Reflections on Home” built on dozens of interviews Lawrence conducted with Twin Cities community members, and an original poem by Santiago. Beecher took those elements to create an original piece that explores the meaning of home in all its complexity, danger and beauty.

“Home is one of those concepts that we don’t think about because it is both familiar and sort of mystifying at the same time,” Lawrence said. “You can live your whole life and think you know what home means, until you stop and think to examine it. For a lot of people we interviewed this was a chance to interrogate their own notion of home.”

“It’s something that’s easy, at the superficial level, to think we know what we feel, but as soon as we go underneath we realize how many contradictions there are in the way we think about home,” Beecher said. “Realizing that a sense of home is one of very few things that are universally shared helps us understand other people better.”

The collaboration, which, as Lawrence said, was “unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” resulted in a gorgeous, 35-minute piece performed by the SPCO Feb. 22-24 at the Ordway Concert Hall. Within it, voices of those interviewed can be heard reading parts of the poem, then exploring their own ideas of what home means, and then concluding with another reading of the poem. The orchestra weaves Beecher’s music throughout all of this, helping build a feeling that works toward capturing the incredibly complex individual, and shared, meaning of home.

“The people we talked to modeled a way of thinking much more deeply than that (meaning of home), examining your own personal ideas about what home means in a more personal way, but situating your own ideas in a larger context of people’s ideas,” Lawrence said.