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UWF Presents History In Music And Poetry

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The University of West Florida Experience Downtown Lecture Series is presenting one of its more unusual segments this week featuring music, poetry, and the Siege of Leningrad. 

"I had written, several years ago, a collection of sonnets about the Siege of Leningrad," said Jonathan Fink, a professor, and director of creative writing at UWF. He says he became interested in the story of the siege when he attended a conference in Leningrad, which is now St. Petersburg. "I visited the museum devoted to the siege. And I had written poetry in the past that was informed by historical experience. I have a sequence of poems about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. And what I appreciated about writing historical poetry, or poetry informed by historical events, is that you have the space to go (and) invent the individual lives. To bring things down to a human scale within the larger context of the historical material."

This particular piece of historical material, the Siege of Leningrad during World War II, has been inspiring artists for decades. In fact, some artists were inspired before the siege even began. "The Siege of Leningrad, in my musical consciousness, is definitely connected to the name of Shostakovich." said Dr. Leonid Yanovskiy, a professor and director of strings in the UWF Music Department. He will be joined by two other musicians during the event to perform the music of Shostakovich. "Shostakovich lived in Leningrad during the siege, and there he wrote his famous Leningrad Symphony, his Symphony Number 7, which was performed in Leningrad (during) the siege. And actually, the Soviet troops made a big deal out of it. They bombed the hell out of the Germans for two hours before the performance so that there would be no fighting during the performance."

The music and verse will come together for a unique evening. And though it’s part of the UWF Lecture series, it is far from your typical lecture. Dr. Yanovskiy says the combination of these two art forms creates a powerful experience for the audience. "These types of art have the ability of bringing people, not just knowledge about historical events, but bringing people into the midst of these events. Not physically, but spiritually." Yanovskiy says he has worked with this music and poetry combination before and it gives the audience a better understand, and a better feel for the historical events.

Once the musical and spoken word pieces for the evening were chosen, the format of the presentation had to be worked out. Professor Fink says the music and words will be presented as a conversation.

"We went through a lot of discussions about how the poetry and music would work together," he said. "One of the misconceptions, I think, is that readers and an audience will bring when thinking about poetry and music is to think (that) having them perform simultaneously is a way to augment each of the two pieces. And frequently, from the musical point of view, the piece (already contains) a sense of narrative. It's expression beyond just its musical notes. And in poetry, so much of your attention is to the musicality of the language itself, through its tonalities, its rhythms, its implications and connotations. And all of that is imbedded within the poem itself. So, what we elected to do is to have the poems and music in conversation."

Fink says they will be performing the sonnets in between the musical performances.

“Art as Grit: The Siege of Leningrad in Music and Poetry” will be presented at the Old Christ Church in downtown Pensacola on Thursday evening at 6. After the performance, there will be a panel discussion with the principals. All are welcome to attend and there is no charge. RSVPs are not required, but seating is limited to a first come, first serve basis.