Get to know your ECO with Christina Dolanc

ECO audiences may know Christina Dolanc as one of the fine violinists of our orchestra. What they may not know is that she is also an accomplished composer and singer! Gannon communications student Veronica Kowalski sat down with Christina to talk about her new piece, Stars Alone, written for the Erie Chamber Orchestra and the Erie Renaissance Singers. Come hear the world premiere this Saturday at 7:30pm at the Church of the Covenant! Admission is FREE!

Did anything inspire you to write this piece? If so, what was your inspiration?

I have always been fascinated with astronomy and I could also be considered a bit of a sci-fi fan girl. I had previously written an experimental piece for choir and prerecorded track based on the expansiveness of the universe and I wanted the chance to broaden that idea with this commission for ECO. I thought the template of choir accompanied by string orchestra would provide the opportunity to really envelope the audience with sound and leave them with the same feeling that one gets when they take a moment to think about just how big the universe is and how small we are within it. I already carried a basic knowledge of the science behind the idea from my interest in the subject throughout the years, but I was able to cultivate it further by researching current videos and articles floating around the internet.

Example: How Small Are We? (Planets, Stars and Galaxies)

Another big inspiration for me is the poem used for the lyrics. I am a fan of the poetry of Sara Teasdale and have used her words many times for my compositions. Her writing carries a lot of emotion within her description of personal experiences and my music writing style tends to go hand in hand with that idea. I chose her poem, Stars, for this work. In it, she describes being on a dark hill at night surrounded by tall trees and looking up to gaze at the stars only to soon focus, as we all have at one point, on just how vast and majestic the heavens really are. My aim was to translate and/or accompany that feeling of awe into music.

Are you happy with the final result and the performance by the ECO and choir?

I am quite familiar with the high level of musicianship of both ECO and the Erie Renaissance Singers (ERS) and so far throughout the rehearsal process they have been able to execute the piece to the point where my vision has been clearly coming to life as planned. I have a great amount of confidence that the premiere on April 23rd will be a success.

How long did it take you to compose the entire piece?

I was first approached by former ECO General Manager, Steven Weiser, about the possibility of a commission in November of 2014, and this is when the initial concept of the work was created. The project received its final approval in January, 2015, and the official writing process began. The whole process covered the span of about 15 months with intermittent time reserved for other compositions to be completed as needed. A good portion of time toward the end was dedicated to creating and polishing the actual sheet music for the scores and instrumental parts to be sure all of my musical ideas and intentions were communicated clearly. In a work such as this, it is not just a matter of lining up the notes to form the correct chordal structure. There is also a lot of specific and experimental instruction for the musicians and all of those details must be understood and executed precisely to ensure the true vision of the work is conveyed.

Was this piece created specifically for the ECO and choir? Is this your first piece you wrote for them?

Yes, it absolutely was written for these groups. Again, I know them both well as I am a member of each (violinist and soprano) and I actually had each musician specifically in mind through the entire writing process. This is, I believe, a truly rare and privileged situation for a composer. I was able to give specific direction and create new techniques that can fit the talent of each musician and the size of each instrument or voice section within the ensembles. This will be the first piece I have written for ECO. I did have the honor, however, of ERS premiering one of my works, In the Year Light for unaccompanied choir, November of 2015, although it was not originally composed for them.

Do you think, and hope, that the audience attending the show will enjoy the piece? Any particular reason(s) that they will enjoy it?

I think I am most excited about possibly being able to expose the ECO audience to a style of music that some of them may not have heard before, or at least not experienced in a live performance. My music writing is within the contemporary choral genre, which has been bubbling in various forms throughout all Classical music, but just in the last 20 years has taken its own solid form and gained immense popularity. This new choral sound typically consists of a unified vocal tone with limited or no vibrato, a mix of chant-like simplicity and complex chords, is based on descriptive or meaningful text that can sometimes only be one repeated word, and can be either accompanied or a cappella. The voices in the choir blend so well that at times it seems it is a single, large breathing being. It is my belief that this new choral style will become its own formally recognized sub-genre within the history of Classical music.

My commissioned work for ECO, Stars Alone, exemplifies my compositional style by evoking images in the imagination of the listener through use of unique musical tones, volume, and color, some of which is achieved by the use of new vocal and string techniques that are my own invention. With these textures and techniques, the words of the text are brought to life as the piece unfolds. Though the vocal ensemble is treated as a solo group and the string orchestra is meant as the accompaniment, the strings enhance the vocal parts as the two sounds become equally intertwined. And my hope, over all, is that the musicians and audience alike will be swept up in the intense emotion and imagery of the subject matter. I often say that the goal for my compositions is goosebumps and tears. I believe this work will not fall short of that goal.

Here is a previous work of mine that most represents my style of writing and is very similar in sound to Stars Alone.

Learn more about Christina and her music at her website:


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