A special performance of “Playing Haydn for the Angel of Death” will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 8 at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneota, Minn.
The musical composition features the poetry of the late SMSU English Professor Bill Holm, a beloved faculty member who passed away unexpectedly in 2009.
Holm was the embodiment of the spirit of Minnesota. His love of the windswept prairie, the glacial Fjords of his ancestral Iceland, and the power of music are imbued throughout his impressive collection of poetry. His masterpiece of prose, “Playing Haydn for the Angel of Death,” encapsulates his philosophy of music by drawing on musical metaphors while referencing specific compositions to describe the ultimate human condition, death.
The centerpiece of the performance will be a musical rendition of Holm’s epic poem, “Playing Haydn for the Angel of Death,” set to music by Minnesota native Martha Helen Schmidt and sung by baritone Ryan Hugh Ross.
The project was led by Southwest Minnesota Orchestra Director Dr. Daniel Rieppel, along with acclaimed baritone Ryan Hugh Ross, a 2008 SMSU alumnus based in Cardiff, Wales. Ross is a protégé of Rieppel’s and has received worldwide acclaim as a professional opera singer and champion of the works of Julius Berger. The Iowa native recently completed his Ph.D. He makes it back to SMSU and Minnesota on occasion to perform with Rieppel and others.
The project began years ago when Rieppel and Ross spoke of some type of tribute to Bill. The performance will also feature select readings from Holm’s literary collection by friends of the poet.
“Bill Holm was a giant in many ways, both physically and metaphysically. In his writing and his musical talent, there is no equal,” said Rieppel. “We are delighted to perform the piece for his friends and neighbors in his beloved Minneota.”
The performance will be followed by a special viewing of the PBS Postcards documentary of the same name, along with a Q&A with the film crew and artists. This half-hour documentary takes viewers on a breathtaking trip to Reykjavik, Iceland. The film centers around a project led by Dr. Daniel Rieppel to pair the work of one of Minnesota’s most iconic poets and essayists, the late Bill Holm, to music.
The event is part of Minneota’s annual Boxelder Bug Days celebration, named after one of Bill’s books Boxelder Bug Variations. The event is free and open to the public.
Additional performances are scheduled in Morris on Sept. 12 and St. Paul on Sept. 15.