The Arts

JD and Phil

A notable expression of the written word

By Kathleen McDonald-Murphy ’94

It began as a conversation. Faculty in the creative arts were discussing the ways and means to bring students in dance, music and writing together with students in theater and visual art. What would be the results? Would it enhance the students’ experience as artists? 

Without answers to their questions, the professors forged ahead, turning their words into action and creating new opportunities for students of various disciplines to collaborate.

Two faculty members chose to walk the walk. Music professor Phil Swanson and writing professor J.D. Scrimgeour teamed up, blending Scrimgeour’s poetry as the spoken word with musical responses from Swanson.

This is far from music and lyrics. It is an exploration of the relationship between sound and language, often reshaping existing texts and music into something new, and offering a rare performance venue to long poems, such as Scrimgeour’s award-winning piece, Ogunquit.

Since identifying themselves simply as Confluence, Scrimgeour and Swanson have presented their blended art form at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Lowell and at the Robert Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire. The two Salem State professors will perform at the Association of Writing Professionals (AWP) conference in Denver this spring and are in the midst of recording their first CD. 

Scrimgeour, who serves as the coordinator of creative writing at Salem State and oversees a guest writers’ series, is founder of the Salem Poetry Seminar, a free summer program for select student poets from  Massachusetts public colleges and universities. He often stretches the range of creative writing, collaborating with artists of other media, including faculty members Kim Mimnaugh, a photographer, and Caitlin Corbett, a choreographer.  

Swanson, an associate professor of music at Salem State, has had a distinguished career as a trombonist, pianist, organist, composer, and conductor. He served as principal for five years with the Miami Philharmonic and has performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops, Opera Boston, and Boston Lyric Opera. Swanson appears frequently in concert as a solo pianist performing his own works. He can be heard on two solo piano albums of original works and on performances with larger ensembles, including the Boston Pops.

Photo caption: Professor Phil Swanson, left, and Professor J.D. Scrimgeour.