The Resounding Lyre

February 3, 2023
Author: Stephen Stubbs

Thoughts on our 2nd Founders’ Series concert

Last year Pacific MusicWorks launched a new initiative called the Founders’ Series to honor the
outstanding supporters who helped found the organization in 2009 and who have supported
and guided us ever since. That first concert honored Joan and Frank Conlon, and today with our
second Founders’ Series concert we honor Bill McJohn.

Like Joan and Frank, Bill was in attendance In March of 2009 as we launched Pacific
MusicWorks with an innovative production of Monteverdi’s Return of Ulysses with
artist/director William Kentridge and the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa. The
recent economic crash had left most people reticent to spend money and time on unfamiliar
artistic endeavors – so audiences were small. Nevertheless, an intrepid group of music and
theater enthusiasts did come to see the performances. We lost money on that maiden voyage,
but we managed to plant a seed for the future, and it was indeed Bill who formulated it like
this: “Seattle should be able to support a company creating productions like this.” Thanks in
large part to him and a few like-minded supporters, we have become that company, surviving
that economic crash and the recent pandemic for twelve consecutive seasons of artistic growth.
Before there was Pacific MusicWorks (2009), Maxine and I initiated the summer workshop in
baroque opera under the banner Seattle Academy for Baroque Opera (from 2005). Bill was a
faithful attendee of these workshops where he came to perfect his skills on the baroque harp
and to work with the talented young singers who were attracted to the program. It was through
these courses that Maxine and I got to know Bill, and to see the depth of his commitment to
early music in Seattle.

Bill McJohn at the 2009 Academy

In offering a program to honor Bill, it was clear that the harp should take center stage, because
of his own commitment to that noble instrument. He also expressed a particular interest in the
music of Isabella Leonarda. As we prepare for the most important and extensive project of our
PMW history, Monteverdi’s Orfeo in concerts in Seattle and San Francisco and a CD recording at
Bastyr in April, it seemed deeply appropriate to begin with the prologue to Orfeo in which La
Musica commands the birds, the winds and the waves to stop in their tracks – so that all can be
attentive to the moving story of Orpheus and his Euridice. She conjures the “Lira del Ciel” (the
Lyre of Heaven) and its “Armonia Sonora” (resounding harmony) to accompany the stirring tale
and to move the hearts and minds of men. This gave us our title: The Resounding Lyre.

Besides Bill’s general interest in the harp and its music (represented also by his long years of
collaboration with the Medieval Women’s Choir), he has a special love for Celtic music. Because
of that we have included music by the blind Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738). His
music is the connecting thread between the classical music of his time and the traditions of
Celtic folk music.

This is a program that is close to our hearts for many reasons, not the least of which is Bill’s passion for this repertoire. It is a celebration of the harp and the many ways the instrument’s voice is expressed throughout different cultures’ musical storytelling.

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Pacific MusicWorks
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