November 18, 2004 • Volume 13 Number6

Prof. Thomas Oboe Lee (Music)

Extra Credit

Prof. Thomas Oboe Lee (Music) is offering geography lessons with his music. Or is it the other way around?

Lee is the composer of "The Penobscot River," a symphony celebrating the lands and heritage of central Maine that debuted to rave reviews in Bangor last month. This Sunday afternoon, he'll be conducting at Boston's Jordan Hall, where the Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston will premiere his tribute to New York City artist Joseph Cornell, "Symphony No. 5 Utopia Parkway."

Lee's Penobscot symphony was commissioned by the American Composers Forum, which offers support for musical presentations reflecting the cultural history and diversity of different regions of the nation. Lee not only composed the score of the symphony, he brought together the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, a 300-member chorale and members of the Robinson Ballet to put on the production before a large and appreciative audience at the Bangor Auditorium on Oct. 23.

This spring, as part of a six-week residency program, Lee plans to conduct scaled-down presentations of the symphony at Millinocket and Bucksport in the Pine Tree State. "One of the movements that I set has Henry David Thoreau's Katadin, which is near Millinocket," Lee said. "So they figured that would be an obvious place to perform it." Bucksport is on the mouth of the Penobscot River.

During the spring, Lee will also work with students at Bangor High School who are writing their own musical compositions.

Sunday's Jordan Hall performance, which begins at 2 p.m., will feature Lee's latest work.

"It's about Flushing, New York," Lee said. "The piece is my musical rendition of a very well known surreal artist named Joseph Cornell.

"This is actually about him. He lived in Flushing [a section of Queens] on Utopia Parkway. There are five movements. This first is about how he would go from Flushing to New York City where he made shadow boxes."

Cornell, an assemblage artist who died in 1972, would scour through bookstores, antique shops and five-and-dime stores for knick-knacks that could be used in his art. "His boxes had a dream-like quality," Lee said.

Other symphony movements bring in Cornell's obsession with movie stars, tropical birds and ballet dancers. The final part of the symphony is a tribute to Cornell's lifelong affiliation the Christian Science Church. Lee took the words of a hymn written by church founder Mary Baker Eddy titled "Shepherd Show Me How to Go" and set them to music.

Tickets for Sunday's Jordan Hall performance are available from the Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston at (617)923-6333 or online at

-Reid Oslin

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