Recordings and Portfolio
for the Department of Music at Columbia University
I moved to New York City eight years ago in order to begin my M.F.A. in Poetry at New York University. The same month I began my studies, I was asked to compose for my first play, which was performed inside St. Mark’s Church in the Lower East Side. That play led to another project, and then another. I have since finished my M.F.A. in Poetry and am still composing for theater. My intention in applying to Columbia is to expand and develop my craft as a composer. Though I feel fulfilled with my creative projects, I know would benefit from the challenge and inquiry of a community of peer and mentoring composers. I feel particularly suited to Columbia’s program because of my love of theory in my compositional process. The athenaeum of resources at Columbia would be an infinite treasure, one that I am sure would enrich my current practice. And lastly, being in New York City would allow me to continue to develop my work with contemporary playwrights here.
My compositions explore how multiplayer alternate realities (whether musically, digitally, or theatrically created) can foster trust and empathy in communities. I seek to examine the ways oppression and power structures are built into the fabric of collaborative “play” spaces, both on and offline, and how we can reclaim those spaces by modeling kind, respectful, and radically honest communication in the creative process. I specialize in choral works because, simply, they are what I love most. The act of performing a chorale is a perfect metaphor for collaboration in any field — it requires empathy, extreme focus, and the malleable coordination of skill sets in order to succeed in a mutually defined goal. For instance, I love it when a group of singers adjust their timing because they hear the rise and fall in one another’s breath.
My musical aesthetics sit on the fence between art song and folk, drawing influence from Renaissance chorales, video game soundtracks, and my daily practice of teaching piano, voice, and harp lessons. I have maintained a studio of 40 students per week since moving to New York City. So, education, theory, and creativity are all pillars in my daily routine. When composing, I cater to the skill sets of individual performers in plays, regardless of their prior training in music. I both write lyrics and set the text of others. I collaborate with playwrights and directors whose work speaks to my own tenets.
I am theater artist because I believe that music and theater are not entertainment commodities — they are types of alternate realities and they are powerful mediums. They can be safe spaces where we examine, reconstruct, and transform the “errors” in our world, re-create narrative structures, and reshape our reality to better serve humanity. My compositions, therefore, are not just about creating something beautiful — my work is about healing through collaboration.
Below, I have provided songs and supporting materials from three projects:
RAID 2.0/MYRMIDON, a video-game song cycle
THE LYDIAN GALE PARR, in collaboration with playwright Karinne Keithley Syers
PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE, by William Shakespeare, composed for the Barnard College/Columbia University production
Thank you for your consideration and I hope to join the department in Fall 2019.
<< RAID 2.0/MYRMIDON >>
1A. /READ THIS PROJECT DESCRIPTION
RAID 2.0/MYRMIDON, written and composed by ALAINA FERRIS and directed by SARAH HUGHES, is an augmented reality song cycle about four female-identifying friends and one gender-non-binary computer who log on every day to play a multiplayer fantasy RPG.
Avatars RED, BEATHAG, LILITH, KAT, and COMPUTER meet each other online. They find camaraderie through questing, performing 17th-century French court dances (choreographed by COCO KAROL), playing folk songs, singing chorales, and deciding the best tactic to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Their friendships with one another deepen as they learn about their players’ real lives, as they argue about dungeon maps, and fight battles. Over the course of MYRMIDON, we realize that the avatars are not just playing an RPG, they are healing from “real world” traumas and finding empowerment through positive game play.
Inspired both by Zork and Everquest, RAID 2.0/MYRMIDON pushes past traditional video game narratives of warfare and masculinity, re-making a world where women find strength and recovery through collective action. Collaborative gameplay and performance share an important neurological through-line: they are right-brain activities that exercise imagination and empathy-building. Trauma, meanwhile, can shut down left-brain activities such as logic and language. Game designer Celia Pearce says, “Play is spiritual. It can create a type of bond that happens nowhere else, a bond between strangers [...] play styles are mobile, they can move across virtual worlds and even into the real world, transcending context.” A collaborative, virtual space — whether an MMORPG or a live musical theater performance — is a pivotal tool for healing because, with the imagination at the forefront, survivors can communicate in a way that does not involve physical threat, effectively rewiring their left-brain in a safe space. Alternate realities, therefore, are effective environments for rebuilding trust and self-empowerment.
*the use of a forward slash [/] is synonymous with an action in command-based games.
1B. /Listen to A Spell: Catatonia
A SPELL: CATATONIA is about the catatonic state that one feels after a traumatic event. I wrote this song last summer, July 2017, not long before the MeToo movement spread on social media. I was driving across Kansas listening to ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Bessel Van Der Kolk on audiobook. In the second chapter, he tells a story of a trauma patient who stood for hours with her arms in the air, unable to move, as a team of doctors stood outside her door watching. In her dissociative state, she had lost motor control. The doctors didn’t know how to help her, or even how to comfort her. I pulled my car over and wrote these lyrics.
“We raise our hands in silence
A defensive gesture, the body stuck
Is this what it feels to feel?
To feel without form?
To feel without form?
The mouth is open as though to scream
The sound sits crystallized
And it’s not that we have not aimed
But what we’ve aimed has failed
Not sure of this world
Not sure of this world
We toss the hours like coins
To the stream before us
Not sure if that metal light is sun or pixel
Not sure if the light is real
Not sure if the light is”
1C. /WATCH HYMN TO ARTEMIS, at 9:40, FROM THIS 15-Minute Workshop Video>>
MEET THE AVATARS : //////////////////////////////////////// 00:05
SPELL : CATATONIA : //////////////////////////////////////// 01:26
HUNTING SONG : //////////////////////////////////////// 04:04
AVATAR DANCE : //////////////////////////////////////// 07:23 (score here)
>>HYMN TO ARTEMIS : //////////////////////////////////////// 09:40 (score here)
MYRMIDON : //////////////////////////////////////// 11:25
1D. /VISIT http://www.myrmidonshow.com FOR MORE (INCLUDING A GAME START VIDEO!)
<< THE LYDIAN GALE PARR >>
2A. /READ THIS PROJECT DESCRIPTION
While living in New Orleans, playwright Karinne Karinne Syers found a brown journal in the public library with a call number, tucked away in the stacks. She pulled the journal off the shelf. It said, “This journal belongs to: Lydian Gale Parr.” But the journal was empty. So Karinne wrote a play that could be anyone’s journal. It is a manifesto of community that begins with the lines:
“I came out of a high-walled city.
I saw the walls from the outside.
I was in the air, turning away.
I have done nothing.”
For me, these lines evoke a sense of timeless suffering, both a heroism and a rupture. And in the context of a group of performers sharing that language, I feel endlessly moved. The play is a 45-minute incantation. The narrative loosely follows a soldier, LYDIAN GALE PARR, in search of their General. And if the general cannot be found, perhaps there is hope. And if there is no hope, perhaps there is, at least, each other. The play concludes with 30-minute chorale. The final lines are,
“Although I chose you for this story,
I will not claim you for its ending.
I don’t know what you are facing,
If you are looking, if you are inviting,
Or if you’ve been calling for me.”
In January 2019, we will have a week-long workshop at New Dramatists in Midtown as part of their creativity fund, where I will continue to work on this piece.
2B. /LISTEN TO THIS VOCAL AND PIANO REDUCTION
2BA. for more harmonic context, /LISTEN to This LowER Quality recording of our choir rehearsal
<< PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE, by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE >>
3A. /READ THIS PROJECT DESCRIPTION
Below are three recordings of original compositions commissioned by Barnard College / Columbia University for their 2017 production of Shakespeare's Pericles. For the production, my goal was to write music that could be taught within two focused sessions of music rehearsal. Because the undergraduate students came from a different of musical training, I wrote these to be ensemble-driven and approachable.
3B. /LISTEN TO Of Your Fair Courtesy: Act 2, Scene 3
Click Here for the Score
Sung by Good King Simonedes and the ensemble the king's daughter Thaisa and Prince Pericles dance. It is the production's love song, so I wanted it to sound a little like Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah with a little Andrea Bocelli thrown in. The recording features Isaac Calvin singing lead, Brian Cavanagh-Strong, Andrew Sheron, myself, and Lacy Rose.
3C. /LISTEN TO Marina's Song: Act V, Scene I.
In Act V, Scene I, there is a famous stage direction that says, "Marina sings her song." Yet, there are no lyrics. When researching old productions to see how this had been addressed, I found a painting by Thomas Stothard from 1825, where Marina is holding a lyre. As a nod to that painting, I wrote the song featuring harp, with lyrics written in the style of a Heroic sonnet. Marina sings this to her father, Prince Pericles, who has been hiding from the world. This demo recording is sung by myself and Lacy Rose.
“I was born unto a sea of ill so vast
To swim clear seemed impossible
My loving mother, death herself
She now holds the waves, her long blue cloak
What meditation can arrest age’s cruel knife?
What strong hand can hold time from change?
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
Nothing can prepare you for that stage
O, wretched man, the world clearly gave you love
And, having given, confounded its gift
If you seek to live life without suffering,
You’d sooner catch the moon overhead
I’ve suffered, too. I still stand
Have you no time from grief to lift your chin?
Have you not a heart that still beats?
I’ve been through darkness and still found grace
We go through darkness and still find grace to lean on
You are stronger than you think
You are stronger than you think”
3D. /LISTEN TO Music of the Spheres: Act V.
Click Here for the Score
The final scene of the play, sung by the ensemble as the family is reunited after years of hardship. In the production, the scene's dialogue is spoken over this music. This recording features Isaac Calvin, Brian Cavanagh-Strong, Andrew Sheron, myself, and Lacy Rose.
That is the end of my application portfolio.
Please reach out if you have any questions!