OSU Wind Ensemble presented Jonathan Newman's Symphony No. 1: My Hands Are A City featuring poetry and photographs inspired by the music and crafted by OSU students

April 8, 2024

In January 2024, students of Julia Bradshaw’s photography class and Jennifer Richter’s poetry class were instructed to listen to Jonathan Newman’s 2009 wind ensemble composition “My Hands Are a City,” and to take inspiration from the piece as they wrote original poetry and took photographs around campus. This unique multidisciplinary collaboration spawned a one-of-a kind performance on March 5, when the OSU Wind Ensemble, directed by Erik Kar Jun Leung, performed “My Hands Are a City” with the photographs projected behind them and the poems collected in a student-designed program.

Below is a selection of photographs and poetry, as well as a short description written by the artists about what they were inspired by. Poetry and photographs by OSU students can be viewed in the concert’s program, designed by OSU student Brooke Cimino. The entire OSU Wind Ensemble performance can be listened to here.



Collected here are the ekphrastic poems my students wrote this term in response to a recent personal photograph of their choice. An early guideline I gave them was to include at least one question, and after studying Gabeba Baderoon’s poem “Old Photographs,” some students chose to riff on the question posed in her poem’s final line: “Was this the beginning of leaving?” The students’ poem titles are modeled on titles of photographs (such as “Factory—Detroit” and “Movie Premiere—Hollywood”) in Robert Frank’s The Americans.

In later drafts, my students shifted their focus to tone and timing. After being randomly assigned Movement I, II, or III of Jonathan Newman’s symphony (which I played many times in class as they were writing), each poet revised their poem’s lineation to mirror the different pacing of their assigned movement: the fast, frenetic energy of I, the calmness and vastness of II, and the gradual acceleration of III culminating in “Bright sunshine!” (Dr. Leung’s wonderful description of the symphony’s final flourish).

Seven decades after The Americans, this poetry collection offers a powerful, updated “view from here”—each poem adding an essential voice and perspective to this gorgeous, timely chorus. In this concert, you’ll witness—as we have—the power of poetry, photography, and music to inspire each other. The result of our weeks of collaboration is this fascinating cross-genre conversation that no single artist, no one genre, could create alone. - Jennifer Richter, Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing


Held up to the sky, limply majestic, Charlie extends all twenty claws. 
He is a shadow against the afternoon’s golden pink clouds.
His black fur still holds heat
gathered from spending so many hours napping
on the warm summer pavement.

To tell the truth, he isn’t very good at being a cat.
He doesn’t groom himself,
and my brush struggles to work through his thick mats. 
He doesn’t lick up the drips of water on his chin,
instead preferring to use my knees as napkins.
He drinks rivers and pees them out on my bedroom walls. 

I can’t feel angry at him for missing the litter box.
He is my cat, and he is welcome to my whole heart.

He is not my cat.
He is my neighbor’s.
He will not be our cat for much longer.

Yipping packs of coyotes prowl our streets at dusk. 
He will be chased down and devoured.
I fear that Charlie will not know they are coming 
until they are already upon him.
Nobody will find his body.

Was this the beginning of leaving my heart behind?
You love a cat for one year or twenty,
invite them to curl around your heart,
and they bury it all with them in their grave.
There’s not a chance for you to get a piece of it back for months. <
They sink their claws into your flesh the moment they’re born and don’t let go for decades.
Later, my skin will crawl
when I hear coyotes howling, taunting their prey.
Who knows what poor cat they are chasing down now. 
Which person’s heart they are burying.


Inspiration behind "Suburbs–Folsom"

Professor Richter asked the class to write a poem based on a picture. The only requirements for choosing a picture were that it needed to be something we felt a connection to and it needed to have some part of our body in it. I immediately thought of Charlie, a friendly cat who lived in my neighborhood. He was a very special friend to me, and I wanted to honor his life by writing about him. It was a little difficult to capture Charlie’s personality and to portray the feeling of loss I experienced after he disappeared. There was so much I could say about him, but I decided to keep the focus fairly narrow so readers didn’t feel overwhelmed with details. I showed who Charlie was by describing some of my favorite things about him, hoping that they would allow the audience to picture a semi-complete version of who he was. I wanted the poem to end with a tone of haunting loss, for readers to feel the same uneasiness I felt when the coyotes came out at night. It’s my hope that this poem accomplishes those things while also acting as a sort of love letter to Charlie. - Alina Kroll

Sitting on the Couch at 9am–Albany

Morning comes, dispelling the night again.
Slowly, the light creeps in through the shutters,
Lighting up your face. Basking in the glow,
You smile. A moment of pure contentment.

Gently, your brother tries to ease your pain.
Sandpaper love drags across your cracked skin.
I am an innocent bystander to
This display of unconditional love.

Fighting for space, you wiggled and wrestled
Till you finally made yourselves a spot.
Laying your heads down, the snoring came quick,
A back-firing engine and a gadfly.

I know I won't be getting my work done
As I run my hand through your soft, clean fur.
I stop when I find a brand new lump. I
Think: is this the beginning of dying?

You have loved so much, lived such happy lives.
I wish I could have known you from the start
Instead of right here, right up at the end.
I savor every second with you.

Death is inevitable, time moves on.
Except in moments like this, when a
Memory can last a lifetime, frozen,
While we all fade in the blink of an eye.


Inspiration behind "Sitting on the Couch at 9am–Albany"

The picture that I chose to write about has my two dogs in it. They’re lying on the couch and the little Chihuahua is licking the Staffy’s dry elbow. The sun is reflecting off their faces. Needless to say, it’s absolutely adorable, and I was planning to write something about it anyway even before the class started.

My poem was chosen to appear in the second part of the symphony, which is very slow. While the first part is fast-paced and always moving, the second takes its time. Someone in class described it as showing “the vastness of America.” It was also described as “waking up from a dream, and the dream felt more real than reality.” For me, I kept picturing a rising sun. And since my photo also has to do in part with the rising sun, I decided to write an aubade.

Aubades aren’t all about sappy, happy moments, though. Sure, they’re about celebrating the coming of the sun, but they can also lament it. As much as this cute photo makes me smile, it also leaves an undertone of sadness. My dogs are pretty old, nine and 12 respectively, and we haven’t had them for very long (we rescued them last year), so I don’t know how long my fiancée and I will have with them. This thought makes me tear up sometimes, but it also shows me that I need to celebrate every moment I have with them.

I actually started writing it in class while we were listening to the symphony. The first line that I wrote was “sandpaper love drags across cracked skin.” I thought it sounded cool, and it also perfectly describes the texture of my Chihuahua’s tongue. I love my dogs; they’re such goofballs. And I hope my love for them came through in this poem. - Kip Franich

The Bed–Corvallis

I am content, but awry in this
photo where light and air are
the exact same. Face smoothed
over, blurred out, multiplied–
mirroring thoughts underneath
thick, dark soft hair. Corvallis
Oregon, Callahan Hall third
floor, loft. It could be midday
and Fall if I let it, but the day
feels of winter in this twin xl
Rain air outside but in here
smells like me, my bedding
my dorm walls, ceiling. Hall
people chat. I take pictures of
myself because I wanted to be
free from the south, the abuse
of the home. I don’t yet know
that I’ll recreate it in my own.
Othered, and I don’t yet
understand why. This feels like
the best place to be. Cratered
ceiling, him in mind, but I can’t
predict what we’ll become. Not
knowing whether he hurt me
nor how I feel about it– to be
angry? I think that I look good
in this moment and I love that
he always comes back. As this
freshman I have too much to
say but can’t in a way that feels
good. Was this the beginning of
evolving? The majority of my
dignity in tact and a confidence
I don’t have to cling to; not yet
knowing who I’ll become, the
things I’ll gain and what I’ll
refuse to lose.

Inspiration behind "The Bed–Corvallis"

The movement that I was assigned for my poem was the first one “Across the Groaning Continent”. I was excited to use this for my inspiration, as the title alone mimics the bus journey I took from south Georgia to Corvallis, Oregon in pursuit of college. The fast-paced, almost never-ending mood in this piece was an effect I recreated in my own writing by using one continuous stanza with mostly enjambed lines. I wanted to keep the reader moving forward in the same way the instruments guide us along. Writing this poem was fun and it came naturally because I already enjoy writing poetry that kind of runs after itself and is fast paced. Listening to the music during the drafting process informed the subject and theme of my poem, because the instruments prompted different memories from my first year at OSU and from my homelife. The frenetic hustle and energy in the percussion and woodwinds early on took me back to my childhood, inspiring me to include elements from that. An ongoing howl from the siren, and the repetition of it, made me think of how hardship doesn’t always go away– and if it does, the residual heartache can linger alongside bad habits that are hard to break. The sense of anticipation for what’s next in the music is similar to that feeling of coming to college with some homesickness, yet moving forward with a bit of excitement and an open mind. To me, the first movement felt exactly like the experience of being a freshman in the dorms during a time that felt really unpredictable. Starting anew and being unsure of what life ahead has to offer are common threads, and the poem is a small capture of what my freshman year experience at OSU was like. - Annasia Johnson

Backyard Party–Portland

Music I don’t know
drifts through the streamers,
adding crinkly sounding clutter to the evening.

I prefer it to the
careless commentary,
and machiavellian whispered words.

The evening breeze licks up and down my arms,
selfishly trying to wipe my limbs clean
of their tacky layer of salt.

This summer has been good to us;
kind, and honest
everything the scene before me is not.

I’m being squeezed by tan arms
the fakeness of which is only rivaled
by the accompanied smile: perfectly pink without reaching the eyes.

The nerves along my back tense,
and my shoulders pinch together
as if they have breath of their own to hold.

When our sticky skin finally peels apart
the anvil of perception eases enough to allow
my breath freedom.

No breeze laps at my skin
as if it was never there,
just careless commentary, and machiavellian whispered words.

Is this what it’s like
be a woman just shy of 21?
I only wanted to cross the backyard.


Inspiration behind "Backyard Party–Portland"

I was given movement two to draw inspiration from while writing this poem. What I found to be particularly interesting here was the sense of loneliness I got, as if the music was able to articulate the feeling of isolation in a crowded room. From there I drew on my own experiences to write about the societal pressure I’ve seen women face to present as nice, and how that pressure results in surface level interactions that only result in more loneliness. It’s okay to not say hi to everyone at a party, in fact sometimes it’s preferable. - Rachel Synder



When Erik approached Jenn and me with this project, I was immediately captivated. Composer Jonathan Newman’s reference to the photographs of Robert Frank and the mid-century Beat poets evoked an energetic, creative, and rule-busting era, which we were eager to explore through photography. The prospect of collaborating with students to interpret the music and translate its energy into images reflecting the campus’s people and places was exciting. In addition to Newman’s exploration of the restlessness of the 1950s, I introduced other inspirations to the students: Students viewed Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler’s 1921 experimental film “Manhatta,” which depicted the chaotic energy of a city; and Chris Marker’s 1962 film “La Jetée,” supported the concept of creating a slide show of images to accompany the musical performance.

During class, the students listened to the Newman’s music and collectively selected themes to photograph for each movement. They asked, “What mood should the photographs convey at certain points of the symphony?” For instance, since the beginning of the piece is extremely energetic and fast-paced, the students captured images of people ‘on-the-move,’ using slow shutter speeds to convey movement. The second movement conveys a restless malaise so the students chose to group images together that depict a sense of loneliness on campus. Conversely, the final few minutes of the symphony sound both chaotic and joyful to an untrained ear; therefore, the students experimented with double-exposure images to express the breadth and scope of the symphony’s themes.

As a tribute to one of the inspirations behind this project—Robert Frank’s photographs—the images are predominantly black-and-white. Finally, in assembling the slide show, the students carefully sequenced the images, engaging in extensive editing and discussion in the classroom as they sought visual flow and poetic connections in assembling the images for the slide show. - Julia Bradshaw, Associate Professor of Art and Art History

“Being part of this process has been really cool. I was forced to step out of my comfort zone in order to support another form of art, which has been very challenging but very rewarding. It is really awesome seeing everyone’s work come together after weeks of listening to the music, shooting pictures, and brainstorming with my classmates to bring it all together.” - Grace Biggs

“As a photographer, I am used to making all the choices for my photographs, the location, the mood, the edits, so I found collaborating with others about these choices challenging at first. But once we hung our photos together I felt a unity in between us and our images. I ended up enjoying making decisions as a group that connected our photographs to the music and to each other as artists.” - Ena Bronstein

“This project has allowed me to appreciate the beauty of our campus and the people. Photographing alongside the music gave me inspiration as I walked around campus finding unique moments. Having a project that combines music and photography gives us the opportunity to be more creative and inspired. I have grown as a photographer being a part of this project because it has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone. I do believe as a class we have captured the feeling of the music perfectly.” - Ivy Parker

“As a photographer, I try to capture parts of life we forget sometimes. I think sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have around us and the beauty in something that we see everyday. I have enjoyed the process of finding little things across campus and making them stand out more. I think with the photographs and music, it hopefully will shine a different perspective on OSU.” - Miky Pope

“This project was one of the highlights of my tenure at Oregon State so far. The collaborative effort between not only my classmates and I, but also two other creative programs was exciting to me from start to finish. It felt amazing to depict campus how I see it as an individual, and to see how others expressed their feelings about life as a college student. The somber and melancholy elements of higher education were definitely present in my images, but it was just as enjoyable to portray the beauty of the architecture and comradery that come with college life.” - Sean Snyder

“While making these images, I was really excited at the thought of people seeing our beautiful campus from the student’s perspective. As a photographer, I tried getting into the areas where not many people see, such as behind the counter of a coffee shop or inside of empty classrooms. Finding ‘joy’ during the middle of winter term on any college campus is hard enough, but OSU pulled through.” - Yadhira Tadeo