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Symphony in Anger

By Steve Ramos · August 10th, 2005 · Arts Beat
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"When the President proposed going to war, I did everything I could to stop it," says composer Rick Sowash before sitting down at the basement piano in his Prospect Hill home to play his latest piece, a musical act of protest titled "Trio No. 13, Passacaglia and Fugue."

Sowash was in the Oct. 7, 2002, crowd of protesters outside the Cincinnati Museum Center when President Bush announced his plan to invade Iraq. He admits to being depressed for months after Bush's re-election last fall before realizing that his music could express his feelings of anger and despair.

Through his music, Sowash has continued his fight for peace.

Sowash first plays a portion of the new orchestral piece at a spinet piano located in a side room of his cluttered basement. Stepping past the cardboard boxes stuffed with the two children's books he's written and sitting beneath a print of Grant Wood's classic "American Gothic" painting, Sowash turns on the computer and starts the piece.

The music is frequently dark and wild, a battle of notes in E-flat minor and A major. It's appropriate for a score attempting to portray the psychopathologies of Osama bin Laden and Bush, whom Sowash describes as zealots who practice pre-emptive strikes.

The 55-year-old author and composer watches the score flow across the computer screen and gestures with his hands like a conductor as the music comes through the computer's small speakers.

This makeshift concert is two weeks before his Thursday evening performance at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, the work's public premiere.

Sowash composed a score relating to a contemporary event once before -- at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This time, he replaces his hopefulness over the fall of Communist East Germany with anger and protest.

A self-proclaimed liberal, Sowash grew up in Lexington, Ohio, just outside Mansfield. He describes his college years in the late 1960s as a constant battle with professors focused on the musical avant-garde who showed little interest in his melodic works.

A former County Commissioner in Richland County, Sowash has been a self-employed composer for six years working out of his basement office. His wife, Jo, helps with the business of selling his books, CDs and sheet music.

Basically he answers only to himself.

Sowash is dressed like someone who works from home, wearing casual shorts and a T-shirt when we meet. His salt-and-pepper hair, thick beard and glasses match his role as a full-time artist.

Sowash's M.O. is this: He sends free CDs of his music to 250 Classical music radio stations and public libraries. When people hear his work on the air and call up to find out where to order them, they're provided with his Web site address (sowash.com).

Regarding his latest piece, Sowash sent the music to five Classical stations that play his music regularly, explaining the political timeliness behind the music. Each station turned him down.

"I am not anti-America," he says. "In fact, many of my other pieces celebrate America. But the Classical music stations told me that they could not broadcast music with an anti-war spin because their conservative listeners might be offended and stop supporting the station."

Sowash describes himself as a Lutheran who's grown up to become a Presbyterian at the famously liberal Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church. He discusses his beliefs in the Christian Golden Rules (turn the other cheek, put up thy sword and if you live by the sword you die by the sword) and questions how any Christian could support the Iraq War.

For him, the worst of the Iraq lies being pushed is that violence begets peace.

"I am a pacifist in general," he says. "I think this is what Jesus is getting at when he says, 'Blessed are the meek.' Of course, many of my friends would laugh out loud if I described myself as meek."



Contact steve ramos: sramos(at)citybeat.com
 
 
 
 

 

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