Bucks County Choral Society concludes 50th Anniversary Season with newly commissioned work by John Conahan and Emily Fulmer

BackOffice Thinking

Bucks County Choral Society commission

June 26, 2023 - The Bucks County Choral Society concluded its 50th Anniversary Season with a concert on Sunday, June 4 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Doylestown. The highlight of the program was a newly commissioned work by composer John Conahan and neurodivergent poet Emily Fulmer. The 17-minute work, entitled Life, Death, & Cats, is in four movements, with emotions ranging from playfulness to affection to sorrow, all related to the poet’s memories of her childhood, her calico cat, and her beloved sister Julianne.

Emily Fulmer is native of St. Louis and a graduate of Pennsbury High School. She is a woman with Down Syndrome for whom writing poetry has long been a creative outlet in her life. Her talents became known to the Choral Society through some of the choir’s singers who were either parents of developmentally disabled children, or professional caregivers for disabled persons. The choir felt that such a commission would represent an important part of the Choral Society’s mission of inclusion and connection to our community.

Artistic Director Thomas Lloyd and Assistant Conductor Susan Johnson, herself the parent of a son with Down Syndrome, reached out to Carly Volpe, a recent Bucks County Poet Laureate who Johnson knew had worked with neurodivergent writers. Volpe connected them with Fulmer, a poet she had taught at the local support center Shared Support South. Through several Zoom meeting with Emily and her mother, Lloyd and Johnson got to know Emily’s work and explored the idea of a commission. When Fulmer accepted, the next task was to find a composer.

John Conahan is a prominent Philadelphia area composer, whose choral and art song compositions have been widely published and performed by leading artists such as The Crossing, Lyric Fest, Denyce Graves, and Deborah Voigt. Knowing Conahan as both a composer and colleague, it was felt that John’s special sensitivities, not only in setting texts, but in the openness he brings to his work with the singers and students under his care as a conductor and teacher would make him a natural fit for the project. Conahan agreed and met with Fulmer over Zoom to read through and reflect on her poetry with her before settling on four texts for the cycle Life, Death, & Cats. A donor was found for the commission itself among longtime Choral Society supporters with the funds shared equally with composer and poet.

John Conahan wrote in his program notes:

“It was a pleasure to set Emily’s poems for choir; she has a unique voice that enables to reader to connect with the emotional tenor of the works very quickly. The acknowledgements of living, things life- affirming, and respectful awareness of death and the eternal find a beautiful and elegant home in Emily’s poetry; we relish in the tastes and colors of life and living, we are conscious of their fleeting nature, we hold dear our loves ones in the present, and cherish their eternal lives in the fabric of our memories and how we choose to live our lives.”

The performance was video-recorded by Joe Hannigan of Weston Sound and Video and is currently available on the Choral Society’s YouTube channel (accessible through www.buckschoral.org) and the composer’s website www.johnconahan.com.

direct access to YouTube video: https://youtu.be/zZGRTMxTyiI

Attached photo shows poet Emily Fulmer and composer John Conahan taking their bows at the end of the premiere as singers Susan Johnson, Christopher Whitney, and conductor Thomas Lloyd look on.

CONTACT: Thomas Lloyd – 484-343-5175 | [email protected]