Cpomposer/percussionist Olivia Kieffer in a performance at Karvana in decatur, Georgia. (courtesy of oliviakieffer.com)

An EarRelevant Interlude, #4: Nobility of Homophones II

Mark Gresham | 19 JUN 2020

Number 4 in a series of audio and video presentations curated by by EarRelevant’s publisher and principal writer Mark Gresham as part of his “Composer’s Notebook.” Several of our writers are also composers, and in this preocess we’d like to introduce you to some of their music during this time in which we are absent live concerts.


Olivia Kieffer: Nobility of Homophones II

percussionist and composer Olivia Kieffer and fellow composer Logan Rutledge perform Kieffer’s “Nobility of Homophones II” for two toy pianos.

Click the “expand” button in lower right corner to enlarge (recommended)


If there is one word that comes immediately to mind to describe percussionist and composer Olivia Kieffer, and her music, it would be “rambunctious.”Her compositional voice is decidedly minimalist and often possessing an exuberant, joyfully raucous edge.

Although she has composed music for a wide variety of instruments and encsembles, Kieffer has become especially known for her works for toy piano, most notably her magnum opus in that genre, The Texture of Activity (2015-16), a book of 55 short toy piano solos with a total duration of 75 minutes, a second set of toy piano miniatures entitled Playing the Changes, and the even more unusually-scored Vibrant City for three amplified toy pianos.


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Kieffer offers the following program notes for NObility of Homophones II:

It was Easter Sunday 2015. Before the service, I had a conversation with an older gentleman in the coffee and donuts room. We were talking about poetry. After a question of whether a line included “rows” or “rose”, he laughed and said “Ah! The nobility of homophones!”

In the original piece for soloist, which was commissioned in 2015 and recorded by my close friend and longtime musical collaborator Amy O’Dell, the performer plays 2 toy pianos at the same time; 1 in each hand.

I decided to make a duet version; performed on 30-key Schoenhut instruments, which sound an octave lower than written, and have a marvelous, clangorous quality. I worked with my dear friend and duet partner Fred Tarrant, and together we shaped this piece into its duet form. Fred and I gave the premiere on 3/16/17, at the Reinhardt Contemporary Arts Festival.

EarRelevant picked up on Kieffer as a novice journalist early last year, and she wrote sevweral CD reviews for us, developing her skills quickly. It was not long before NewMusicBox asked her to write a four-part series on being a composer-performer, to which EarRelevant provided links in an August 2019 article about it. She is continuing to write for EarRelevant even while pursuing her doctorate in music composition at University of Miami. ■


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