An Interview with Sheldon Curry

Tucson-based composer Sheldon Curry, whose new work Concerto Sonora will be premiered at our upcoming American Rhythm concerts, discusses his collaboration with True Concord.

Tell us a little about yourself, and your AZ life. What attracted you here?

My mother was born in Holbrook, AZ, and my maternal grandparents lived in Gallup, NM. They owned a Sporting Goods store on Route 66. When I was growing up in West Texas, I would get on the train in Lubbock, ride to Gallup and spend the summers working with them in the store. My grandmother also taught English on the Navajo (Diné) reservation nearby so I spent a lot of time there. We would take road trips to various powwows and celebrations between there and Window Rock.

I moved my family here to Tucson so that our son could attend Basis School. He is graduating this May from Kenyon College in Gambier, OH. I teach at Imago Dei Middle School and am Director of Music at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Armory Park.

Your body of work extends from country, to gospel and choral with a few other styles in between…What are some of the things that motivate you to compose a certain style? Do you have a favorite?

My mother was a classical music teacher (piano) and her favorite composer was Mozart. My father was in the Army (infantry—“the REAL Army,”—he would be quick to point out) and his favorite artist was Hank Williams, Sr. AND I grew up in a Baptist church, so you see, I never had a shot in hell at a “normal” music education.

As a composer, I work in whatever genre suits the purpose. I did the arrangement of Down to the River to Pray for “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” but it would have been weird to do that for woodwind quintet.

I honestly don’t have a favorite—just lucky to be musically multi-lingual.
Turning to your new composition, what was the motivation and what would you like it to communicate to the audience?

Homero Cerón, principal percussionist for True Concord and TSO, and I have been friends for a long time. He is not only a fine musician, but a good person to boot. He approached me with the idea of writing a “serious” work for him. As I considered what I wanted to do, it became evident to me that what I had in mind was more of a large chamber work, involving strings, singers, woodwinds AND percussion. In the course of dream-building, Eric Holtan and True Concord joined the endeavor.
Thus was born CONCERTO SONORA – a three movement musical work commissioned by True Concord Voices & Orchestra and Homero Cerón.

Like all concertos, it shines a spotlight on one virtuoso. Unlike any concerto I know of, its star is a geographic area in North America known as “Sonora,” a desert region that overlays both the southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. People have lived in Sonora for thousands of years; wildlife and vegetation have been around forever.

The three movements mirror the human languages of Sonora. In addition to the singers of True Concord giving voice to the text in the languages of the Tohono O’odham, Spanish and English, Homero Cerón, provides the percussive song Sonora sings.

Are you excited to be working with True Concord? 

Thrilled! I know many of the musicians personally and, for its birth, I could not have put my “baby” in better hands. The consummate attention Eric pays to each detail is unusual. I’ve worked with musicians all over the world, and while each offers something different and valuable, no one offers better than True Concord –especially for a work of this scope whose “star” is the land where we all live.