Based on a poem by Chrissy Kolaya, Alex Burtzos’ choral piece “Mirabilis” will be performed by the UCF Chamber Singers at UCF Celebrates the Arts.
“You are alive.” These three simple yet powerful words—painted on a wall near the World Trade Center ruins—brought Chrissy Kolaya to a record-screeching halt.
“The image of it just took my breath away,” says Kolaya, who came across the graffiti in the days following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. “It struck me that whoever had made it was engaging in a kind of entirely understandable magical thinking: if I write that this is so, it will be.”
So, Kolaya went and did her own writing, using the anonymous writer’s graffiti as inspiration for her poem “Annus Mirabilis.” At the time, she was working in publishing in Chicago, editing a series of books that frequently quoted the Bible. One verse in particular always stuck out to her: Isaiah 49:15-16, which reads, “I will never forget you./See, I have written you/on the palms of my hands.” The rhythm and cadence of those lines inspired the final line of her own poem: “See, I have written you/on the walls of the city.”
“Annus Mirabilis” is featured in Kolaya’s forthcoming book of poems “Other Possible Lives,” which is coming out summer 2019 and available to preorder here. Now the poem lives in musical form as well, thanks to a collaboration between Kolaya, who is a UCF English assistant professor, and UCF Music assistant professor Alex Burtzos. Burtzos composed a choral piece based on Kolaya’s poem, which will be performed by the UCF Chamber Singers at UCF Celebrates the Arts. The piece will premiere on April 7, 2019 as part of the UCF Choral Concert: Building Bridges, in the Walt Disney Theater at Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts at 7:30 pm. The concert is free for UCF students and people age 18 and under if tickets are reserved by April 5 at 5 p.m. Standard tickets are $5.
An interdisciplinary collaboration is born
Burtzos and Kolaya, both new to UCF, met at the College of Arts and Humanities faculty orientation in fall of 2018 and found instant camaraderie. Their conversation drifted to the types of poems that translate well into choral pieces. “What was interesting to me was that it wasn’t all what I had imagined,” says Kolaya. “I thought it would need to be a rhyme-y poem with a lot of repetition, but what Alex told me was that a short, image-focused poem was often the best.” Kolaya sent Burtzos a packet of all the poems she thought had potential for a strong choral composition. He selected “Annus Mirabilis.”
“Chrissy’s poem deals with a powerful national trauma, but this piece is intended to transcend that event by drawing attention to aspects of love, hope and optimism about the future,” says Burtzos.
More collaborations are coming
When asked if more interdisciplinary collaborations are on the horizon, Burtzos says, “Absolutely. Perhaps the best thing about working in an academic environment is that you’re surrounded by gifted, creative people all the time. I want to collaborate as much as possible.” He plans to write pieces for the UCF wind ensemble and orchestra next year.
Kolaya shares the same sentiment about blending disciplines at UCF. “I love those moments when artists from different areas are able to come together to create work,” says Kolaya. “There’s a fantastic energy in interdisciplinary collaboration. Being part of UCF Celebrates the Arts is also a great introduction to some of the cool things happening on our campus and the possibilities we have as an institution full of really interesting, creative people!”