Vermont Arts Council

The People’s Choice Award: Kathleen Oprea

62: Kathleen Oprea

Compose new music for a Vermont chamber ensemble, Heliand

I am an oboist living and working in Vermont. I was born and raised in Franklin County in a musical family. My family always sang together; on long car rides, on walks, and on stage, and though I am classically trained, I think all that singing was the best musical education I could have.

I left Vermont as a young adult, and lived and studied in France for three years, followed by four years in Romania where I served as principal oboist in an opera orchestra. This was an amazing and formative experience, learning new languages and learning new ways of making and interpreting music.

After my travels, I returned to Vermont and realized that I didn’t want to live anywhere else. Settling in to freelance and teach, I was fortunate to meet the members of Heliand – a Vermont-based chamber music group. With their encouragement, I have explored arranging music, songwriting and composing. This has been an incredible experience, and allows me to tell my story in new ways.

Project description

I will develop and compose a program of original music for my Vermont chamber music ensemble, Heliand. My work will include new compositions, songs, and new arrangements inspired by folk and instrumental music from across diverse traditions.

In my songs, I will broadly examine contemporary life in Vermont, including reflections on nature and our relationship to it. I will also compose a set of songs based on Emily Dickinson’s poems, a project which I began during the pandemic.

My instrumental arrangements will include a new set of pieces for Heliand’s “”1800 and Froze to Death”” program which tells the story through narration and music of the ‘year that had no summer’ where it snowed every month of the year, leading to a massive exodus from Vermont, widespread hunger, and inspired literary works from Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and others. I look forward to arranging folksongs, including “”Wayfaring Stranger”” as well as instrumental music by Amy Beach, Claude Debussy, and Franz Josef Haydn.

An important aspect of this project for me is to develop and expand my own voice as a composer. Although I have been arranging music for over a decade, composing is a distinct—but related—skill. I look forward to opening up new avenues for my self expression through this project.

The program will be performed in concert halls, people’s homes, small churches, and community spaces in remote areas. We also conduct outreach programs in Vermont schools and will continue to do so with this program. Ongoing and recent partnerships have included student performers at St. Johnsbury Academy, Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans, Middlebury College, and Northern Vermont University.

Media Sample 1

Dvorak – Molto vivace from ‘The American’ String Quartet Op. 96, arranged by Katie Oprea. “I arranged Dvorak’s beloved string quartet for Heliand’s July 2021 summer tour. The piece was inspired by his time visiting in America.”

Media Sample 2

Chick Corea – Children’s Song No. 7, arranged by Katie Oprea. “This is one in a set of 4 arrangements I made of Chick Corea’s lovely Children’s Songs, originally for solo piano, for Heliand’s summer 2021 tour.”

Media Sample 3

Haydn – Trio in F Major, Allegro, arranged by Katie Oprea. “I enjoy the creative challenge of adapting music written for other groups to work for my own ensemble. It’s gratifying to share this with our audience.”

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Acadia Klepeis August 24, 2023