Indiana State University Newsroom

‘Fanfare for Fanfares’ to herald in university’s birthday

September 29, 2015

Those observing Indiana State University's homecoming will be treated to more than fellowship and football this year with the world premiere of a newly composed fanfare.

Written by Grammy-Award-winning composer Libby Larsen, the fanfare was commissioned by the School of Music in honor of the university's sesquicentennial celebration.

"(A fanfare is) a short piece of music that invites people to a festivity like a coronation or inauguration," Larsen said. "They're a little bit challenging to write because they have a special minimalistic quality about them. So the trick is to write a fanfare that sounds fresh and interesting."

Larsen is one of the most prolific modern American composers, having accumulated a catalogue of more than 500 works from nearly every genre -- from intimate vocal and chamber music to massive orchestral works and more than a dozen operas.

Still, fanfares are somewhat unusual, as Larsen has written only four or five in her 40 years of work. They include "Fanfare for a Learned Man" for Librarian of Congress James Billington and "Northern Star Fanfare" for the 1987 inauguration of Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich.

"This fanfare is a great deal of fun, because it's ‘A Fanfare for Fanfares,'" she said.

In her preparation to write the Indiana State piece, Larsen said she was delighted to discover the word "sycamore" in the university's school anthem and fight song. The staccato word offers movement to the music -- so much so Larsen said she finds herself singing it as she walks around her house.

She's also found inspiration thinking about these stately trees and their roots.

"I do love to do research for any piece that I'm working on. The research generates what you and I know as music," she said.

If fanfares are unusual pieces to create these days, Indiana State upped the ante by asking Larsen to arrange it for every musical ensemble on campus, so the fanfare can be performed at any sesquicentennial event, large or small, providing a musical link throughout the celebration.

"It's quite unusual (to write this many arrangements) -- mostly because traditional fanfares are for brass or for brass and percussion," she said.

The adaptations for the voice and string ensembles are a challenge, she said.

"I kind of feel like I'm back in school because I'm recalibrating my craft trying to find a way to make each ensemble shine," Larsen said. "I'm particularly interested in what I can do with steel drums."

In addition to sesquicentennial events, the fanfare will be performed by School of Music Director Paul Bro and his duo partner Kurt Fowler when they travel to Vietnam in January.

Larsen has known Bro for years, as Larsen has performed at the university's Contemporary Music Festival, including being the featured composer in 1996.

"The university's support of living American composers is really respected around the country," she said. "Paul Bro is a real musical inspiration for me."

Bro shared Larsen's sentiments.

"It is great to work with Libby again, and I was very excited when she responded so positively about writing the fanfare for all our ensembles," he said. "I know this is a unique challenge for her and a great opportunity for the School of Music."

Larsen has received numerous awards and accolades, including a 1994 Grammy as producer of the album "The Art of Arlene Augér," an acclaimed recording that features Larsen's "Sonnets from the Portuguese." Her opera "Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus" was selected as one of the eight best classical music events of 1990 by USA Today.

The first woman to serve as a resident composer with a major orchestra, Larsen has held residencies with the California Institute of the Arts, the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, the Philadelphia School of the Arts, the Cincinnati Conservatory, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Charlotte Symphony and the Colorado Symphony.

She is the past holder of the 2003-2004 Harissios Papamarkou Chair in Education at the Library of Congress and a recipient of the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Peabody award.

Still, she is humbled to add to the university's musical repertoire and participate in the sesquicentennial celebration.

"I'd like to offer a great big thank you to the School of Music, Paul and the university for allowing me to partner in the celebration. It's really an honor," Larsen said.


Photo: -- Grammy-Award-winning composer Libby Larsen. Photo by Ann Marsden

Writer and media contact: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or