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Classical 101

Composer explores turning 40 in surprising new musical work

Devin Copfer standing while playing her violin with Sam Johnson sitting and playing his cello
Jennifer Hambrick
Violinist Devin Copfer and cellist Sam Johnson of Chamber Brews at WOSU's headquarters.

It has been said that life begins at 40. Columbus composer Sharon Udoh explores the upheaval of the true beginning of her own life in Over, a new string duo full of surprising twists and turns.

“I turned 40 in August, and I feel like I started to ask myself questions like, well, what kind of 40-year-old human do I want to be, and what do I want to bring into my 40s?” Udoh said. “And it turns out I want to bring very little into my 40s.”

The beginning of Udoh’s 40s has coincided with the end of some significant aspects of her life. Within three months of turning 40, Udoh says her marriage ended, she said farewell to her church and she left her job after 10 years of service.

“All the stuff was happening, and Over kind of is a sonic exploration of, like, how that all felt,” Udoh said.

The feel of Udoh’s Over could be described as a silver lining with just a hint of cloud. Udoh’s fresh, ear-catching melodies sometimes find themselves in unexpectedly ominous musical surroundings.

“The overall piece is pretty sweet and light, I would say, but with this dark undertone,” Udoh said.

The final movement is where Udoh’s music most clearly illustrates the full-scale changes turning 40 has meant for her. The finale is a bouquet of loose ends, of unfinished tunes and incomplete musical thoughts. A melody begins, only to become a new idea midstream and head off in a different direction. The movement traverses musical styles the same way, launching in one style, then abandoning it for another, and yet another.

The final movement of Over is full of beginnings that end but don’t conclude. Even the last notes leave the listener hanging.

The Columbus string duo Chamber Brews performs the final movement of Sharon Udoh’s Over:

“The last movement kind of feels pretty accurate to how I am right now, where it starts pretty melodically as well, but it really unravels in the middle,” Udoh said. “The piece is grounded but unraveling at the same time, if that makes any sense.”

Over may be, as Udoh describes it, “a piece about things being over” in her own life. But Udoh’s work also speaks to a universal reality of being human.

“We carry a lot with us. Just the residue of a lot of our life events, we carry with us way more than we know,” Udoh said. “And I don’t think things conclude a lot of the times. It’s not wrapped in a pretty bow. It’s just like, Okay, this is done. This is done. Okay, next. Okay, next.”

For Udoh, what comes next now has the space to take any number of shapes.

“Almost everything about me is different now, except my name and race and musical ability and probably my gender,” Udoh said. “I think a lot had to die in order for me to be the person I’m supposed to be.”

Chamber Brews performs Sharon Udoh’s Over June 26 at 5 p.m. at Seventh Son Brewing Co., 1101 N. 4th St. Columbus, OH 43201.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.