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Musical to show incredible journey of Sisters

Three student composers team up for unique presentation Friday night


The story of how the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary came to Oregon is a deep part of the fabric of Marylhurst University.

In fact, it is the foundation of what the school’s mission is all about.

But the tale has never been told the way it will be on Friday night in the musical presentation “The Sisters’ Journey: A Story of Faith” at 7:30 p.m. in Flavia Hall.

REVIEW PHOTOS: CLIFF NEWELL - EMILY IPPOLITO

MATT BURNETT

SARAH LAMB

Besides being a great tribute to the women who brought education to Oregon, this original work is a collaboration between three students — Emily Ippolito, Matt Burnett and Sarah Lamb.

It was a labor of love for everyone involved, but there were hazards along the way.

“It’s scary when you have three different composers,” said Peter Whitmore, musical composition professor at Marylhurst, who originated the idea for the musical. “There was the possibility that their stylistic differences would make it seem like the work wouldn’t feel like one piece.”

Instead, the outcome was just what Whitmore was hoping for.

“I’m extremely pleased with the result,” he said. “You could imagine one person writing this work, but you can hear the voices of each composer.”

In fact, the work fits together so nicely that the composers are amazed.

“Weirdly enough, it’s all pieced together really well,” said Ippolito, a senior majoring in music composition.

Certainly, the three composers were daunted when they were approached by Whitmore about writing a musical work on the Sisters. But the opportunity was too great to turn down.

“I was super excited,” said Ippolito, 30. “It was such a unique opportunity to tell the story of the Sisters in a musical. I didn’t realize the whole scope of what they did. It was all interesting and definitely inspiring.”

“It was a challenge,” Burnett said. “It was interesting to see the Sisters’ trepidation and fear but also the strength of their faith. It was a challenge to show their darkness and despair and also their optimism.”

One of the strengths that Burnett brought to his composing of the piece was he could identify with the women getting into canoes, braving unknown rivers and going to unknown lands.

“I drew on my own experience,” Burnett said. “I went on a barge on the Columbia River and it was harrowing and terrifying. I understand why these people kissed the dock when they reached their destination.”

The subject of religious women was quite close to Burnett’s heart.

The 46-year-old has worked in classical music for 35 years and has been composing music for 25 years, but only in the last five or six years has he seriously taken up composing sacred music.

Coming to Marylhurst University and the tutelage of Whitmore and his colleague John Haek has given Burnett a new direction for his music-obsessed life.

“Sacred music has been my dream for a long time,” said Burnett, who has been music minister for Bethany Lutheran Church in Portland for the last seven years. “If not for the church written language as we know it would not exist.”

To Burnett, the experience of writing the musical has been just short of overwhelming.

“It’s taken me 300 hours to write a 9-minute piece of music,” he said. “There’s a myth about Mozart composing music like he was taking dictation from God, but he worked really, really hard. It’s a hard life being a composer.”

As for his future, Burnett said, “It’s going to be incredibly crushing.” Yet he is serene about that prospect.

In contrast to Burnett and his decades in music, Lamb is 20 years old, the youngest of the trio, and she was quite surprised when Whitmore approached her about composing for the musical.

“Technically, I’m not a music composition major,” Lamb said. “I didn’t know how to handle such a big project.”

However, her life was been saturated with music.

Music was her life while growing up in the incredibly small town of Oakhurst, CA, which is near Yosemite. Lamb learned to play several instruments, became a fine singer and wrote her first compositions.

She originally came to Marylhurst because of its outstanding music therapy program, but then she decided to go for another career. But she didn’t change schools.

“I love this school and the teachers so much I decided to stay,” Lamb said.

Collaborating with Burnett and Ippolito has solidified Lamb’s plans to become a composer.

“I’m ready to do any kind of music,” she said. “I’m happy whenever I’m writing music. The three months I’ve worked on this musical have been really exciting. It has been great working with Matt and Emily.”

The three composers have developed a close friendship and a deep appreciation of each other’s talents over the past several months. Whitmore is extremely happy with their work, and many others will start appreciating their work on Friday night.

But there is a particular segment of the audience they want to please the most.

“I think the Sisters will like it. I hope so,” Ippolito said. “I hope there are lots of Sisters there.”

“It has been a real honor to write a piece for them,” Lamb said.

“I hope the Sisters feel we are honoring their history,” Burnett said.

“The Sisters’ Journey: A Story of Faith” will be presented in three parts with both orchestral and choir music. The lyrics and libretto were written by Whitmore and Haek.

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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