Music Professor’s New Works Tackle Social Justice Topics
Ohio Wesleyan University faculty member Jennifer Jolley continues to create music that strikes a chord with issues of social justice. Jolley’s latest compositions debuted this spring: one in Texas and one in Washington, D.C.
The first piece, “The Eyes of the World are Upon You,” was performed at the University of Texas at Austin in remembrance of the 1966 tower shootings that killed 17 people and wounded more than 30 in what is largely considered the nation’s first mass shooting.
“Originally my work for the UT Austin students of Kappa Kappa Psi wasn’t intended to be a political or social justice piece,” said Jolley, D.M.A., assistant professor of music. “I wanted to write a good work that these students would be proud to premiere.
“Unfortunately, I read an article in The New York Times last summer entitled ‘Texas Lawmakers Pass a Bill Allowing Guns at Colleges,’ which stated that ‘students and faculty members at public and private universities in Texas could be allowed to carry concealed handguns into classrooms, dormitories, and other buildings.’ This new campus carry law would go in effect on the 50th anniversary of the UT Tower Shootings,” Jolley said. “After doing more research, I knew that a piece about this event had to exist.”
Jolley’s second spring premiere, “Shine a Light on Our Rights,” made its debut at D.C.’s House of Sweden as part of International Women’s Day. She was asked to write the piece by The Canales Project, a not-for-profit organization created to give voice to issues of identity and culture, in partnership with Vital Voices, a women’s empowerment organization founded by Hillary Clinton. The composition honors Nadia Bushnaq, founder of the Family Guidance and Awareness Center in Jordan.
“If you look at all the work that Nadia has done for women in Jordan, you will be amazed,” Jolley said. “She designs and leads training programs to help women, especially refugee women, regain a semblance of normalcy after violence. To me, Nadia is a beacon to those women who desperately need her help, and I hoped to create a lively, inspiring, and powerful song in honor of Nadia.”
Jolley also recently earned national recognition for her composition “Prisoner of Conscience,” written about the Russian band Pussy Riot. Three band members were arrested and jailed in 2012 following a performance critical of President Vladimir Putin. For the piece, created in collaboration with librettist Kendall A of Cincinnati, Jolley was named a finalist in The American Prize in Composition – Choral Division competition.
Jolley said is pleased that she has been able to combine her passion for music with her passion for women’s and social justice issues.
“There have been times in the past where I have grappled with how I could make a difference in people’s lives via music,” she said. “In other words, what role do we composers have in our society? Yes, we write music, but do we make a difference? And now I can say that I have found a way to serve my community at large, and I will make an effort to write more of these pieces in the future.”
Jolley, who joined the Ohio Wesleyan faculty in 2012, earned her Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. She teaches music composition, theory, orchestration, and electronic music.