Marquette native’s compositions are being performed around the globe


Composer Thomas Lavoy is a native of Marquette.

By Katherine Larson
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? If you’re Marquette composer Thomas LaVoy, you start writing music at the age of six. You are nourished by a solid public high school music program, encouraged by a music-loving family, and end up earning a Ph.D. in composition. But mostly you write and you write and you write.
And then you write a choral work entitled I Shall Not Live In Vain. It will be performed in New York’s Carnegie Hall on April 1 by the National Festival Chorus, Alan Zabriskie conducting.
April is a busy month for LaVoy. In addition to the Carnegie Hall event—which actually represents his second appearance in that venue, his work White Stones having been performed to acclaim there in 2015—April marks the first in a series of premiere performances of his In Heaven, Hereafter by seven different choirs in three different countries.
In Heaven, Hereafter is, LaVoy said, “a passion project, an intense artistic statement.” He was struck by a black-and-white linoleum print block depicting a woman flying through the air with a flock of chickens. Embedded in the artwork was a curious rhyme. “‘What IS this?’ I wondered.’”
Research uncovered the eccentric story of Nancy Luce, who raised hens and wrote poetry on Martha’s Vineyard. LaVoy said, “Her writing was remarkable: dark and prophetic, and mixed with idiosyncratic advice about caring for hens. I loved it all, including the names of her hens—Ada Queetie, Beauty Linna, Pinky.”
LaVoy contacted the artist, Dan Waters, who still lives on Martha’s Vineyard, and found that Luce was something of a folk hero there. “I went and visited her cabin, and paid my respects at her grave. And I knew I had to write this music, based on her life and her writing.”
Because of the size of his envisioned work, LaVoy “started contacting conductors to propose that we do this by consortium, and seven signed on. So now this year the work will receive seven performances, in five different states plus England and Scotland.”
Pulling together consortiums is very much part of the life of a 21st-century composer. Indeed, making a living is a challenge. LaVoy said, “Most contemporary composers have other jobs—teachers, church musicians, insurance adjustors—it’s very difficult to make a living at it. I’ve been fortunate: out of grad school a year, and I’m in the black.”
That is in part because of the quality of his music, which has earned commissions and performances by choirs across the globe—the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Poland, New Zealand and Taiwan…

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