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Darrell Grant Explores Oregon History Through Music

Pete Springer/OPB

PSU professor Darrell Grant tackles unusual subject matter in his music. A few years back, he helped compose a movement of “The Amur Suite” — a collaboration of several Portland composers based on Russian folk music and performed on a cultural exchange trip to Khabarovsk, Russia. Before that, he composed a piece called Truth and Reconciliation about the struggle for justice in South Africa. 

He’s looking closer to home for his new suite “The Territory,” which focuses on events in Oregon’s history. He says “from the Oregon Trail to Portlandia, this has been a place of imagined perfection,” but those idealistic portrayals belie the more sinister parts of Oregon’s history. In the composition, Grant examines abhorrent events like Japanese internment during World War II, and the massacre of Chinese gold miners in Hell’s Canyon in 1887. 

He explores the Missoula Floods, Chief Joseph’s surrender, and the Golden West hotel that was the heart of the Portland African-American community in the early 20th century. The suite also asks what is artificial and what is real about territory. “The notion of territory is a myth,” he says, “but it’s a necessary one, and one we can build on.”

Chamber Music Northwest presents “The Territory” this Saturday at 8 p.m. at Reed College and this Sunday at 4 p.m. at St. Mary’s Academy.

What are the historical events that define Oregon to you? Have you ever explored history through art?

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