The University Record, February 15, 1999

Beauty can be heard everywhere, composer says

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Stephen Eddins’ work gives a whole new meaning to the lyrics “Get out in that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans.” A doctoral student studying composition with Associate Professor of Music Michael Daugherty, Eddins divides his time between yard, garage and rummage sales and work in the music studio.

As a graduate instructor, Eddins encourages his students to hear beauty everywhere, especially in everyday objects. And to Eddins, those everyday objects include pots and pans, ceramic bowls, wine glasses, springs, brake drums, bolts and even metal roadside posts, from which he constructs chimes. His imagination just naturally turned to percussion sounds, Eddins says. He also writes for voices and traditional instruments. “The challenge for a composer is to combine these found sounds with conventional instruments to create new and unexpected sonorities.”

The sound of non-traditional instruments has fascinated Eddins for some time. With degrees from Oberlin College and the University of Akron, Eddins took about 10 years away from music to serve in campus ministries. But his fascination for sounds and impulse to compose became irresistible. For the past year and a half, Eddins has been haunting Ann Arbor’s PTO Thrift Shop and the Kiwanis Rummage Sale searching for “sounds.” There he tests frying pans, lids and various-sized pots by tapping them with his fingers or knuckles and listening for the resulting tone. “I’ve probably been to every junk and scrap metal place in Ann Arbor,” the composer says. He was able to find all those resources by once again using his fingers to “walk through the Yellow Pages.”

Another favorite haunt is Pier One, where Eddins shops for wine glasses from which he says various sounds and tones can be produced by stroking them with a bow, striking them, or rubbing their edges with wet fingers. The pitch elicited from the glasses can be varied by adding different amounts of fluid, Eddins says. Eddins prefers to compose for dancers, theater productions and poets rather than for the traditional concert hall, favoring what he calls the collaborative process. His recent projects include incidental music for Henry V and Sherlock Holmes produced by U-M’s Theater Department, and Paranoia: A Psycho Opera produced by the students in the School of Music.

Eddins and his 16-year-old son, who is a percussionist, often share ideas about these “found sounds.” Though his daughter and wife are both cellists, the Ypsilanti family has not performed together.

Eddins’ composition part of ‘Brave New Works’

“Brave New Works,” a new music series, will present a series of performances this week that feature a collaboration by five Ann Arbor composers, five Ann Arbor choreographers and the musicians of the Brave New Works Series. Inspired by the collaborations of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Brave New Works has commissioned the Five Dances from composers Thomas Schnauber, Stephen Eddins, John Berners, Eli Shapiro, and Mark Kirschenmann and choreographers Deborah Miller, Angela Youells, Jeremy Kallio, Lily Baldwin and Rishauna Zumberg.

This concert is unique because of the way in which each dance will be realized. Usually a composer/choreographer presents a completed piece to the musicians/dancers at the first rehearsal. However in the Five Dances Project, the composer/choreographer pair has created sketches that place the responsibility of “completing” each piece on the performers. Many of the dances use improvisation as a way to elicit interaction among the instrumentalists/dancers and the composer/choreographer.

Performers will take to the stage at 8 p.m. Feb. 18–19 and 8:30 p.m. Feb. 20, all in Pease Auditorium, Dance Building.

Tickets are $5 per person and are available for purchase one hour before the performance or at the Michigan Union Box Office, (734) 763-8587. For more information call (800) 896-7340 or email and visit the Web,