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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Worcester Guitarist Composes Music Inspired By Stephen King

Artistic watercolor images of blue and yellow stringed instruments: a violin, guitar and cello
The trio Yellow Sky, which uses this encaustic-treated photograph of its instruments as an emblem, will be performing original compositions for strings, inspired by the works of Stephen King, in Montpelier on June 18.

Last year, Danielle O'Hallisey found herself amidst a coming-together of unrelated events, the result of which led to the composition of an exciting new work.

O'Hallisey, a classical and jazz guitarist from Worcester, composed 11 pieces of original music for strings, titled "String Ka-Tet in d minor."

Most recently, under the tutelage of jazz fusion guitarist Larry Coryell, O'Hallisey began writing the themed pieces for her 7-string electronic classical guitar. And at the same time, she was reading author Stephen King's The Dark Tower novel series.

Certain recurring themes in the books began to echo her compositions. And when she was tasked with writing a piece for an Italian music website about the obscure Neapolitan whole-tone scale, O'Hallisey brought all the influences together for the "String Ka-Tet in d minor." Also armed with a Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council, O'Hallisey had funds to find and work with great local musicians.

"I had a certain preconceived notion of what I wanted to write and I was starting to write ideas but nothing was really clicking," she says. "I played one of those for Larry Coryell and he said, 'That piece...' and I was just waiting on pins and needles thinking he was going to say, 'Oh, yeah! That's a great one!' but he said, 'That one ... I would just throw that one away.' Instead, he wanted me to dig a little deeper."

The new pieces bear titles like, "There Was A Place, The One Before This," "Time Is Like A Face On The Water," and others, all phrases contained within King's books and used with his permission.

O'Hallisey has put together a neoclassical trio with two other local musicians to debut the new works, and they perform together as Yellow Sky, with O'Hallisey playing classical electric guitar, Letitia Quante on violin and Michael Close on cello. 

Violinist Liz Reid played on the tracks for the group's CD and will help turn Yellow Sky from a trio to a quartet when she joins on viola as they venture out on more concert dates later this year.

The new composition's name is itself a nod to King, with the term "ka-tet" taken directly from The Dark Tower book series.

"'Ka-tet' was a tongue-in-cheek term when we first applied it to this collection of pieces. It's a term that comes from these King novels and it means, 'A group of people drawn together by destiny.' ... I finally decided that's what I was calling the whole collection of music."

On Saturday, June 18 at 7 p.m., Yellow Sky will perform the "String Ka-Tet in d minor"at Montpelier's Unitarian Church.

The program will include new works to open the show, followed by each musician performing separate classical works by Ysaÿe, Ligeti and J.S. Bach and then end the program with O'Hallisey's "String Ka-Tet in d minor," with author and VPR commentator Willem Lange serving as host.

The ensemble’s CD will have its official release on the evening of the event and will be available for pre-purchase on iTunes beginning June 11.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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