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New music about Florida debuts this Sunday at USF

The new work, Florida Miniatures by Alyssa Morris, was inspired by paintings of Florida's history by artist Christopher Still.

This Sunday at USF Barness Recital Hall, there will be a world premiere of Florida Miniatures by Alyssa Morris.

The work was commissioned by oboist Amy Collins and flutist Francesca Arnone of the trio Amici Musicale, as well as Florida painter Christopher Still.

They had help with funding grants from the University of South Florida and the Gobioff Foundation, but they’re footing the rest of the cost themselves.

Collins and Still wanted music expressly written to accompany the murals he was commissioned to paint for the state of Florida. It’s something they’ve been talking about for more than ten years, during a time they’ve been presenting music and painting together.

They often spoke of their desire for a kind of Florida Suite, referencing the lush and lyrical 19th century work by British composer Frederick Delius, who spent time in northeast Florida when he was in his 20s.

"I wanted a piece of music that represented all the beautiful, natural elements of Florida and there really isn't anything out there like that, and Chris is such a historic Florida painter, and we both live in Florida," Collins said.

 Oboist Amy Collins
Courtesy of Amy Collins
Oboist Amy Collins

Still not only lives here, he was born here.

"I see Florida as home. I am proud to be a Floridian. I think we have a very unique and interesting history," he said.

"To me, Florida is one of the most beautiful states in the country. I grew up wandering in the woods and going fishing and that’s the Florida I know and love. I never get tired of watching the clouds build in the summer or watching the sun set over the water. "

"A lot of good, hard-working people have supported me over the years and helped make it possible to be an artist. I think people see the love I have for our great state in my paintings," he said.

Each of Still's paintings abounds with historic symbolism and this new musical work by Morris is inspired by five of the ten murals he created for the Florida House chamber as Artist-in-Residence for the Florida Legislature.

The only limitation Morris had was in the instrumentation. It had to be written for oboe and flute or auxiliary instruments, such as the English horn.

The movements of Florida Miniatures are named for the paintings they represent: I: In Ages Past, II: La Florida, III: The Spring of Life, IV: The Okeehumkee on the Oklawaha, and V: A New Age.

You can link to images of the other paintings from the Florida House Murals here.

The actual musical piece, Florida Miniatures, is being kept under wraps until the premiere on Sunday, where Still will talk about his creative process, and his paintings, in which each element represents some fragment of Florida history.

But we can tease out information from Morris’ program notes. These words are taken from notes on the movement, In Ages Past.

 Detail of In Ages Past, from the Florida House Chamber Murals, by Christopher M. Still
Courtesy Christopher M. Still
Detail of In Ages Past, from the Florida House Chamber Murals, by Christopher M. Still

“The first character piece is based on the mural titled In Ages Past. The painting shows a scene of members of a Timucua tribe, some of Florida’s earliest inhabitants, fishing and gathering along a peaceful river at sunset. Water birds glide along the water.

"In this movement, Alto Flute and English horn sing a song together, reminiscent of and paying respect to Native American flute. The call of a water bird can be heard interspersed with the flute song.”

Collins said the most exciting part of this endeavor for her is working with Still, whom she has known since they were in the Dunedin High School Highland Band together, and "…that this dream of music written for Chris’ work is finally coming to fruition."

After the world premiere this Sunday, Collins and Arnone plan to perform Florida Miniatures for the International Double Reed Society. And they hope to eventually perform it in the Florida House Chamber in Tallahassee, where the original murals line the walls.

They plan to record it as well, and have Still’s paintings be a part of the packaging.

Seating is limited for the Sunday night program, Florida Chamber Murals: Bridging the Arts for All at USF Barness Recital Hall, but you can get free tickets through the Ticketmaster website here.

I love telling stories about my home state. And I hope they will help you in some way and maybe even lift your spirits.
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