by Ann Moss
California Composer Kenneth Froelich's music has been described as “energetic, exciting, and rhythmically dynamic” and “set with imagination and imagery.” I had the pleasure of first meeting Dr. Froelich in the summer of 2008, when we were co-teachers at CSU Summer Arts' Composer/Performer Collaboration Workshop. When the workshop reconvened for a second session in 2011, Kenneth approached me with an idea to collaborate on a song cycle.
The resulting five NERD SONGS, (2012) are light-hearted and nostalgic pieces that depict hobbies from the composer’s childhood. Themes include Dungeons & Dragons, 8-bit video games such as Super Mario Bros., Star Trek, a variety of quintessential television shows, and a serially composed homage to the BASIC programming language.
This recording of NERD SONGS is from the premiere performance in August, 2012 at CMASH’s Fifth Annual New American Chamber Music program at Old First Concerts in San Francisco. In the program note for NERD SONGS, Froelich revealed to the audience a rather personal motivation for his choice of subject matter:
“As a child growing up in the 80s, it was often very difficult to come to terms with my identity. I was a nerd. That meant I was shunned by my peers, pursued obscure and often obtuse hobbies that few others understood, and spent much of my childhood on my own. Being a nerd was simply not accepted during this period of time. So, as a teenager I worked to hide this identity as much as possible - in effect living a double-life between pursuing nerdy hobbies at home and conveying (quite poorly) a “cooler” exterior to my peers. I am thus quite fortunate that, in recent years, being a nerd is not the stigma that it was once. As a result, I have been able to not only accept my identity as a nerd - but fully embrace it. Make no mistake - NERD SONGS is a labor of love, representing everything that I enjoyed as a child, now brought forth with pride. Each song within the cycle directly references subjects that are near-and-dear to my geeky soul. Classic role-playing games, Super Mario Bros., the BASIC computer language, Star Trek, and a small list of 80s television shows each serve as the inspiration of both the text and the music for each piece. These topics also happen to be passionate pursuits of mine - hobbies and interests that I indulged in as a child and teenager, and continue to pursue even today.”
After searching in vain for suitable poetry on the subjects he wished to explore, Ken had made the decision to compose his own texts for the song cycle. In an email to me, he mused about the experience of penning and setting his own poems:
"I knew I wanted to write about subjects that I was intimately familiar with. As such, each of the poems deals with those ‘nerdy pursuits’ that I was most engaged with throughout my childhood. Some of the poems came very easily - for instance, I wrote 'Red Shirt' in a single sitting. Others, like ‘Guk’s Lament’ took several days to refine. I even spent several hours trying to come up with a decent name for the dwarven protagonist, eventually using a ‘random dwarf name generator’ (yes - that really is a thing!) that I found on the internet. The poem that was by far the most rewarding was 'Hello World,' considering it isn’t a poem at all but rather a fully functional BASIC program. Granted - it is without a doubt HORRIBLE code - no programmer in their right mind would ever write that way. However, a two-line program wouldn’t be nearly as interesting for a song! Of course, the most personal of the set is 'Child of the 80s.' I wanted to make sure that the songs ended on a somewhat tender and reflective note, revealing these songs to be less humor and more nostalgia than anything else.”
The first full-length album exclusively featuring Kenneth Froelich’s vocal music is slated for release in 2016, and will include NERD SONGS as well as a forthcoming work I recently co-commissioned from Ken with the Hausmann String Quartet. Recording sessions for NERD SONGS with myself and pianist Steven Bailey took place in January, 2014 at Maximus Studios in Fresno, California.
NERD SONGS will appear on a program hosted by Fresno New Music next weekend, performed by soprano Mary Elizabeth Southworth and pianist Philip Amalong of the contemporary ensemble Conundrum. I can think of no greater thrill than knowing a piece I helped to create has been taken on by another collaborative duo. I feel the deep sense of pride and excitement I imagine a parent must feel as they watch their child board the school bus for the first time. As NERD SONGS launches into the great wide world of standard vocal repertoire, I feel so happy to have been present as it took its first steps. Congratulations Ken, and here’s to our next project. Bring it on!
Composer Kenneth Froelich sits down with recording engineer Eric Sherbon to listen to live takes of NERD SONGS at Maximus Studios in Fresno, CA
"NERD SONGS" Texts
I. GUK’S LAMENT
How could this happen?
Where did I go wrong?
The plan was perfect!
My plus five demonic battle-axe of cleaving in my hands,
I was invincible.
But luck was cruel.
I rolled a ONE.
The goblin archer rolled a TWENTY.
I collapsed, my dwarven honor was crushed.
My days as a warrior done,
I will spend the rest of my years drinking mead,
Warning young adventures of the perils of
II. WRONG CASTLE
Is it true? Am I saved?
My loyal servant tells me so!
My hero has slain my captor -
MARIO comes for me!
Oh wonder, oh rapture!
I knew he would triumph!
No mushrooms, nor turtles, could
Stop his victory charge!
I think I hear him now!
He approaches my door!
It opens! And - what’s that now?
He went to the wrong castle???
III. HELLO WORLD
note: the following text paraphrases a working segment of BASIC code - actual code is printed below
TEN. Goto FORTY
TWENTY. Print A-String.
THIRTY. Goto SEVENTY.
FORTY. Let A-String equal “L O Space.”
FIFTY. Print “H E L.”
SIXTY. Goto NINETY.
SEVENTY. Print B-String “L D.”
EIGHTY. Goto ONE-HUNDRED TEN.
NINETY. Let B-String equal “W O R.”
ONE-HUNDRED. Goto TWENTY.
ONE-HUNDRED TEN. End.
10 GOTO 40
20 PRINT A$;
30 GOTO 70
40 LET A$=”LO “
50 PRINT “HEL”;
60 GOTO 90
70 PRINT B$;”LD”;
80 GOTO 110
90 LET B$=”WOR”
100 GOTO 20
IV. RED SHIRT
This was fate.
My destiny is complete.
I die knowing I played my part.
I am thankful that, as my vision fades,
The last thing I will see is
My beloved red shirt,
Torn asunder from my chest,
Ripped to pieces by
A Klingon’s pet Targ.
V. CHILD OF THE ’80s
In my childhood…
I believed in “turtle power,”
A plan always came together,
Raising a sword gave you the power,
Knowing was half the battle,
and there always was more than meets the eye.
Now with a child of my own…
"Turtle power" sadly does not exist,
A plan is hardly foolproof,
Raising a sword will get you arrested,
Knowing is definitely half the battle, if not more,
And while there may be more than meets the eye,
You may not want to know.
Composer Kenneth Froelich, Soprano Ann Moss and Pianist Steven Bailey pose for a quick photo after wrapping up a very successful recording session at Maximus Studios
KENNETH D. FROELICH’s (b. 1977) music has been performed internationally in England, Germany, Italy, France, Slovenia, Finland, Canada, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and China, as well as numerous major cities across the United States. He has been honored with awards from ASCAP, NACUSA, Meet the Composer, the Percussive Arts Society, and the American Composers Forum, and his music has been presented the American Composers Orchestra, Duo46, Earplay, the Empyrean Ensemble, the California E.A.R Unit, the Jolles Duo, the Indianapolis Symphonic Orchestra, Conundrum, the University of New Mexico Percussion Ensemble, the University of Southern California Symphony Orchestra, the Indiana University New Music Ensemble, and the Orpheus Ensemble of Fresno, among others. Kenneth received both his Doctorate of Music and Masters of Music degrees from Indiana University, and received his Bachelors of Music degree summa cum laude from the University of Southern California in 1999. His principal composition teachers include Claude Baker, Don Freund, Sven-David Sandstrőm, Eugene O’Brien, Donald Crocket, Frederick Lesemann, Morten Lauridsen, and Erica Muhl. Kenneth currently resides in Fresno, CA with his wife Jennifer and daughter Katerina, where he is Associate Professor in Music Composition at California State University, Fresno and director of the Fresno New Music Festival.