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Classical 101

Music Inspired By Hope And A Dog

Composer Ching-chu Hu
Denison University
Composer Ching-chu Hu

That moment when you’re facing something that might be wonderful or harrowing...

You inhale. You pause. You exhale.

That moment, suspended in time and tied so closely to our emotions that the breath pauses automatically, is what Ching-chu Hu, professor of music composition and chair of the Music Department at Denison University, calls “the hope moment.”

“The hope moment is this idea of a moment in between your inhale and your exhale,” Hu said in a recent interview, “the moment where everything sort of pauses in your body and you can collect yourself. You might be steeling yourself for an uncomfortable moment, and you will take that breath and you hold it in a little bit. Or it may be something that is full of surprise and is a pleasant situation, and you’ll inhale and catch your breath.”

A series of "hope moments" Hu experienced with his dog inspired his work for violin and piano titled The Hope Moment.

At the time, Sebby, a German Shepherd who had been with Hu for 13 years, was ill with cancer, during what would turn out to be the final month of her life.

“She would always sit beside me when I’m writing, so this music came about as I was noticing her breathing and I was noticing my breathing and how attentive she was to me,” Hu said. “I realized just how much I was holding my own breath and how much a certain movement or a certain gesture on her part would elicit my inhale. And I would hold my breath to see–is this a good sign, is this a bad sign?–before I would exhale.”

Hu channeled those moments of anticipation into The Hope Moment (2009), a beautiful, wistfully rhapsodic work with soaring violin melodies against a piano accompaniment of ever greater intensity.

“I use this piece in a way that allows the violin throughout the piece to become more and more passionate, very focused, while the world around it, meaning the piano, gests more and more crazy,” Hu said. “It’s sort of like finding your own center and carrying through whatever journey life brings to you.”

Sebby’s journey ended while Hu was brushing her fur, shortly after giving her a bath. Even Hu’s cats, it seems, were experiencing hope moments.

“The two cats sort of marched in and sat in front of her, like the lions outside of the library would, and just stayed there. And I started noticing that the breath was going and that she was stopping and that she had passed on. And the cats stayed there for a little while. And then they walked out of the room,” Hu said.

“It was a beautiful moment.”

The Hope Moment by central Ohio composer Ching-chu Hu will air on The American Sound, 6 p.m. Sat., March 28 and 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 31 on Classical 101.

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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.