The University of New Mexico orchestra and choirs hosts guest composer Andrea Clearfield, who has written a commissioned work for UNM that will premiere this week in Popejoy Hall in A Concert of Healing. She is also holding master classes and rehearsing for the performance with UNM music department students this week.

“Andrea Clearfield writing a piece for us is a big deal for the department and our program. In addition, the subject matter of the music will be the experience of musicians during the pandemic, and it promises to be a very timely and affecting performance,” said Matthew Forte, professor and the director of Orchestral Studies and conductor of the UNM Symphony Orchestra. 

A Concert of Healing: Singing into Presence composed by Andrea Clearfield
Thursday, May 5, 7:30 p.m. • Popejoy Hall, UNM Campus
Tickets are $12.50 at

Matthew Forte
Matthew Forte

Making its world premiere Thursday, May 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Popejoy Hall will be Singing into Presence, the new commission with a poem by Catherine M. O'Meara. The performers are the UNM Combined Choirs, the UNM Symphony Orchestra, and associate professor of Voice Michael Hix and sopranos Margot Friedli and Jennifer Perez, soloists. Forte will conduct. Edmonds has prepared the choirs for this performance, which features about 160 performers.

Singing into Presence, partially about the hardships imposed on us by the pandemic, will be on the second half of the program, and is a completely new work not yet heard by anyone,” Forte explained. 

The evening of music will open with Pan with Us (2007/2022) with the poetry of Robert Frost, an older work Clearfield arranged for UNM that will make its New Mexico debut. 

Among the student performers is Patricia Morrison, who will play principal cello and solo.

Patricia Morrison
Patricia Morrison

One of the roles as a principal player in the orchestra is to lead sectionals, smaller rehearsals within each section of the orchestra, Morrison explained. So as principal for this concert, she has led a few sectionals with the other cellists. She estimates that with sectionals, rehearsals, and individual practice, she’s will have put in well over 30 hours of preparation for Thursday night’s performance. 

“One of the challenges with performing new music is the lack of recordings available, if any at all,” Morrison noted. “Since both pieces are premieres, navigating the part without the ability listen to an actual performance is challenging. With this in mind, it made full orchestra rehearsals even more exciting because we could then add our piece of the puzzle, and hear not only other parts in context, but also how our part fits in with other sections.”

“This project is special because the meaning of the piece ‘Singing into Presence’ hits close to home for musicians and artists like myself,” Morrison observed. “The past two years have been filled with sadness, grief, and uncertainty. They have also been filled with hope, resilience, and perseverance. When the world shut down back in 2020, I had no idea that it would take almost a year for me to have the opportunity to play in a full orchestra again. The poem Andrea picked as the text for her work beautifully brings together these emotions. It's been an unforgettable experience bringing this piece to life.”

Clearfield found Catherine O'Meara's Triage, written at the beginning of the pandemic, in 2020. “This text has provided inspiration for us all,” Forte said. “It is an honest, clear-eyed take on the costs that COVID has imposed on us all, but also manages to weave in a narrative of hope that suggests happier times are ahead.”

The poem ends: 

… We held each other’s hands
and we walked into the new day,
the different world.

We sing ourselves into presence.
We begin.

“Speaking only for myself, if those beautiful words aren't inspiring, I don't know what is,” Forte said. 

“We believe this event will be an amazing, cathartic experience for anyone who attends,” he continued. “If you've had a rough time during the pandemic, or been feeling isolated, or lonely, sad, or are in desperate need of real connection, come see us. This will be an evening of joy and hope, and we want as many people to share in the experience as possible.”