In 2015, Mark Nunlist signed with PARMA on behalf of his mother, established composer, published poet, and music teacher, Juli Nunlist.
In 2006, Juli Nunlist passed away. Nunlist was a graduate of Barnard College and Manhattan School of Music, composed chamber music, a one-act opera, was the founder of the Princeton, MA Writers Workshop, and published poetry in The New York Times, The Herald Tribune, Field, along with many others. And the year of her death, Nunlist’s book of poetry, Viewpoint, was published by Hobblebush Books.
It was enlightening to see Mark in the studio experiencing the recording process. Mark, a Dartmouth College professor, sat next to the soundboard, sifting through old articles, programs, and photos of his mother while listening to his mother’s choral arrangement, SPELLS, brought to life by Vox Futura. Every so often he’d stop for a moment to take the music in, even recalling “I remember my mother composing this as a child.”
Juli Nunlist was quite a character. She was not only highly motivated, she also had a strong sense of humor as Mark pointed out. Juli has been quoted in multiple articles talking about her abnormal career and education late in life as a wife and mother. In an interview, it was revealed that one of Nunlist’s professors admitted that Manhattan School of Music only accepted her because it was a “challenge” and they wanted to see what “[they] could do with a middle-aged housewife.”
This PARMA project is not only important to documenting the memory and music of Juli Nunlist for audiences to have the opportunity to experience her work, but also to Professor Ron Perera. Perera worked with Juli late in her life and contributed to some of her compositions, some which were lost. Without Perera’s persistence of keeping the existing music alive, this memorial project wouldn’t have happened.
In an interview following the recording session, Mark shared a few thoughts and memories about his mother and the upcoming album to be released on Navona Records.
PARMA: What was the inspiration for this project and the pieces chosen?
NUNLIST: My mother was a gifted and creative writer and teacher, both in word and music. When she died, I inherited all of her writing. This is not a unique situation: many creative individuals leave a substantial body of their work for others to do with as they see fit. While much of Juli Nunlist’s poetry was collected and published in the small volume Viewpoint, her musical scores remained in storage in our home. Over the past decade, I have periodically thought of my obligation to do something with my mother’s musical compositions rather than simply discard them. Some of my favorites from among these compositions include her string quartet and Spells.
As a young child, I became intimately familiar with both the string quartet and Spells, having listened to my mother at her piano while she wrote both compositions. When I became aware that PARMA had copies of recordings of some of my mother’s music and could coordinate the professional re-recording of other compositions, I jumped at the chance to produce this music. As my mother commented, music is not truly composed until one has a chance to hear it performed. Were my mother still alive, this production would have delighted her. As it is, the music will now be available for others to enjoy or perhaps perform themselves.
PARMA: During the session, you reminisced about remembering your mother composing SPELLS during your childhood, what’s it like hearing it come alive so many years later?
I can only say that hearing these compositions now, fifty years or more after their writing is a beautiful experience both to my ear and in my mind. I find myself thrilling to hear familiar passages and harmonies come alive after these decades, and wishing Juli could have heard them performed so beautifully as well.
PARMA: How did your mother’s musical background play a part in your life?
NUNLIST: When my mother entered Manhattan School of Music, I was in grade school. We now recognize that for a “housewife” (the term apparently ascribed to my mother by the Manhattan School of Music staff) to attend graduate school in the 1950’s was highly unusual – but it didn’t strike me as odd at the time. My mother was passionate in her work, it brought her joy, I liked the compositions, and the only hardship on us was the need to cook our own dinners while she was away. But that didn’t seem an imposition; I simply didn’t know any other experience and had no way of knowing our family was any “different.” I was proud of her ability and drive, and I still am.
PARMA: What would you like listeners to take away after having heard this music?
NUNLIST: I cannot know what listeners might take away from hearing the music. But I would like any listener to gain an appreciation for what’s possible when an individual sets his or her mind to writing music despite coming to that mission in mid-life, and I hope listeners find the music as beautiful and appealing as I do.
PARMA: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about Juli’s life and her perspective on music?
NUNLIST: My mother advocated truly listening to music, to hear its component parts, and to develop an appreciation for the interrelationships among musicians when performing. She would have been thrilled with this project.