Celebrating Judith Shatin and Shatin Music Month
Last April, the McIntire Department of Music celebrated Shatin Music Month. It was a daunting task – celebrating 40 years of groundbreaking and internationally-acclaimed accomplishments by Judith Shatin, one of the department's most remarkable educators, composers, and innovators, with a series of concerts, seminars, and other events that marked her accomplishments on Grounds and beyond. Shatin, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor Emerita, retired in May of 2018. She founded the Virginia Center for Computer Music, served as its Chair, and led the development of the Ph.D. program in Composition and Computer Technologies, which was the first of its kind in the Commonwealth. At the same time, Shatin built a career as a distinguished and versatile composer, receiving commissions from around the globe that regularly bridged the gap between instrumental and computer music, and were highlighted by her exquisite technical command, artistic inspiration, and a tireless innovative spirit. Shatin's ceaseless and consuming passion has taken her not only around the world, but beneath it as well, as she once spent a day deep in the Eagle's Nest coal mine in Twilight, West Virginia for COAL, a two-year project exploring every aspect of the region's coal culture.
"I came out covered in dust," Shatin said. "it took several days to get it out of my system." One thing Shatin has never gotten out of her system is her ongoing thirst for inspiration. "I believe very strongly that the compositional process is about the imagination," Shatin told the Journal for IAWM (The International Alliance for Women in Music). "I don't care whether you are using sticks and stones or the newest technologies, or common household items, as in my recent Zipper Music (2019). It is really a question of what your imagination is capable of, what kind of structures you can imagine and create in sound." Sometimes, Shatin did not have to go far to satisfy that imagination. Her 2012 piece Singing the Blue Ridge, commissioned by Wintergreen Performing Arts, through Americans for the Arts' Animating Democracy program, celebrated the natural music that surrounds all who spend time here. For Shatin, keeping ahold of her acoustic roots has been a key to her electronic music success. It also allowed her to have patience in her early days when technological capabilities had not yet caught up to her imaginings. "When I was at Princeton completing my Ph.D., I tried composing on a mainframe. In those days, we laboriously typed parameters on cardboard cards and had the results transferred to digital tape, which we brought to the Engineering School late at night to listen to the results. I found them disappointing, and I decided to wait for further developments. Somehow, I knew they were in the offing." The delay, in some ways, allowed Shatin to expand her compositional palette further, giving her an even deeper foundation that ultimately allowed her to bring elements of vocal and orchestral music to her own technology-infused compositions, and to students throughout her celebrated tenure. The interaction with students, she has said, was about more than just education. "At UVA and elsewhere, my teaching has been another part of my collaborative process. I have found the exchange of ideas and repertoire to be a meaningful kind of collaboration." The spirit of collaboration made its way across the entire range of Shatin Month activities, including in performances by the New Music Ensemble, which premiered Zipper Music, and the University Singers, who performed Adonai Ro’i, Shatin’s setting of Psalm 23 in the original Hebrew as part of a concert that captured the full range of Shatin’s University of Virginia career, including acoustic, electroacoustic, and digital music that Shatin created during her four decades on Grounds.