Composer sets her memories of Salisbury to music

Published 12:30 am Monday, July 20, 2015

By Jeanie Groh

Salisbury holds a very special place in the heart of composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, and soon she will share her fond memories through “Hiraeth,” a full-orchestra musical piece she was commissioned to write.

Family lore states that the last 13 generations of Snider’s family have been born and raised in North Carolina.

Although she herself isn’t from the Old North State, Snider said she spent a lot of time in Salisbury as a child visiting her grandparents

“I came to see North Carolina as the home of my people,” she said.

When she was approached about writing the piece, Snider said she “flipped out,” and added that she has fond memories of the state.

“It was the sense of the world being a kinder and gentler than up North,” she said.

The finished work is 25 minutes and 30 seconds.

While there is warmth and sweetness in the piece, Snider said, “there’s more darkness in the piece than I intended.”

Just after she began working on the piece at the beginning of 2014, Snider’s father, Arnold, was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. He passed away three months later.

Not only does the piece express her personal memories, it also includes implanted memories from her father and his childhood.

It’s “somewhere between memory and dreaming,” she said.

The title “Hiraeth” is a Welsh word with no direct English translation.

“It means homesickness tinged with longing for the lost or departed,” Snider said. “It’s a bittersweet feeling.”

When she discovered the word, Snider said she thought there should be a word for it in English.

“This is exactly what I’m writing about,” she said.

Snider said she wanted to add a visual component to her work.

So, with financial backing from The Robertson Family Foundation and the Margaret C. Woodson Foundation, she enlisted the help of filmmaker Mark DeChiazza.

When music and video are created together, the music is often designed to complement the video.

In this case, however, the video is simply a tool to help picture the score, Snider said.

“It’s tough to do a film in conjunction with a musical piece,” she said.

DeChiazza said he plans to create a sense of memory and nostalgia through the video by including clips of Snider and her family, as well as the “timeless” details of Salisbury.

The North Carolina Symphony will debut “Hiraeth” Sept. 24 at Memorial Hall at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, followed by performances Sept. 25-26 at Memandi Concert Hall in Raleigh. The North Carolina Symphony will also perform it Feb. 6 in Keppel Auditorium at Catawba College.

“Hiraeth” will be performed once again at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2017.

“It’s not frequent that a new work has five performances in different places,” said Sandi McDonald, president and CEO of the North Carolina Symphony.