Compelling storytelling, original song, dance and film will combine to entertain audiences in one evening on Saturday at the Wilson Center. Wilmington Symphony Masterworks will feature composer and pianist Julia Walker Jewell performing her original composition “The Dance of the Coin” with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, alongside dancers with choreographed work by Lesa Rogers Broadhead, and a silent film produced by Jewell and Honey Head Films.
“The Dance of the Coin” is an imagined journey of a coin—a 1942 German 5 pfennig—and the people who handled it along its travels from Germany to America. Jewell first thought of the idea several years ago during a week’s long stay in Greenville, South Carolina. She spent her days setting poetry about the Holocaust to music, essentially engrossing herself in World War II Germany. It was a coffee break on her way home, however, which sparked another side to the story.
“I went through a drive-thru for coffee, pulled some change out of my wallet to pay, and there amongst the other coins was a tiny German coin,” Jewell remembers. “It was my pondering as to how it could possibly have reached my hand that inspired me to write the piece. I imagined all of the hands it must have touched and all of the many situations it must have been a part of.”
The images inspired Jewell to write the screenplay on which Saturday’s silent film is based. While Jewell is known for her classical and jazz music, “The Dance of the Coin” covers a range of “sounds and colors” alongside her film about Jewish life in Germany, circa 1942.
“I have done extensive research on the lives of the people in Germany and Poland and how it was for them,” Jewell explains, “particularly Jewish people, and their struggle to survive. . . . The film contrasts the way Nazi officers could be so loving and gentle with their families and so brutal with Jews.”
Lesa Broadhead, whose dance choreography appears throughout the film and onstage, codirected the project with Jewell. They were joined by Honey Head Films’ Erika Edwards, Devan Mitchell and Kristie Rae.
“They have done a beautiful job with casting and cinematography,” Jewell praises. “I am so glad we found them. This piece has been such a collaborative effort that it’s hard to talk about just one aspect without talking about another.”
To experience the works together is to experience every human emotion they touch upon, but the feeling of hope is one Jewell wants to impact upon audiences. As a recurring theme in the piece, “The Dance of the Coin” is a reminder of how we treat our neighbors, or allow them to be treated, and is in each individual’s hands.
As part of the national Orchestras Feeding America initiative, Wilmington Symphony will host a food drive in conjunction with the event to benefit local food banks. Collection bins will be accessible in the Wilson Center lobby, along with display tables highlighting several area food banks. Folks who donate non-perishable items will receive a raffle ticket for a chance to win tickets to Symphony Pops! in March, Don Giovanni in April, or season tickets for the 2018-2019’s Masterworks Series.
Jewell, who owns Ted’s Fun on the River with her husband, Kelly, also serves as music director at Wrightsville United Methodist Church and leads the Port City Trio. She manages it all with a great deal of planning, as well as patience. In fact, it took seven years to complete “The Dance of the Coin.”
“I visualized it, wrote it and pretty much had things in place—except funding,” she notes, “so when the opportunity arose and the symphony expressed an interest in doing it, I was ready.”
Working in a variety of styles with project to project, Jewell comes by every composition a little differently. Each offers inspiration for (and even respite from) the other. In fact, with a heavy piece like “The Dance of the Coin,” she found great pleasure in Port City Trio gigs and improvising swing. She keeps a music journal nearby to flesh out ideas when she’s not knee-deep in work. Sometimes a piece will spill out whole; other times she must charm or coax the muse.
“It takes me a long time to work because I do have many demands on my time,” Jewell notes. “Often, it is an event that triggers something in me and moves me to write. Other times, it’s just an emotion. Sometimes I feel completely empty, [and] I just sit down and see what happens. . . . Between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. is my time. I frequently get up for two or three hours and write, then go back to bed. Also, I tend to have periods of writing, where I ‘go under’ for several months or years.”
One of Jewell’s 2018 goals is to get her jazz quintet out more and cut a record before year’s end. In the meantime, she’ll perform with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra and others on Saturday night. Included in the program are Alexander Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” and “Prince Igor Orchestra,” with performances by 2017 Young Artists Concerto Competition winners, David Walker and Camden Stohl. Walker is studying music education and saxophone at UNCW and Stohl is finishing her junior year at Hoggard High School and is concertmaster of the Wilmington Youth Symphony Orchestra.