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Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s Pulitzer Prize winning opera Silent Night (2011) musically depicts the surprising events of Christmas Eve 1914, when several French, Scottish, and German soldiers along the Western Front declared a one-night truce and laid down their weapons. There is a duality in this historical moment: Although dedicated to serving their countries, these armed units were comprised of individuals who, for a night, forsook duty to their respective causes in order to connect with greater humanity. Similarly, there is a duality intrinsic within this opera. Because this is a musical work about a truce, it forces the listener to engage with concepts of silence (absence of gunfire) amidst sound (music of the opera). Silence has several different meanings (e.g., absence of noise, stillness, omission, being forgotten, secrecy), and this paper examines the various manifestations of silence in this piece, including: Why does silence occur when the main female character enters one of the barracks? What is the silence associated with the “no man’s land” or the neutral space between the battle lines? And what sort of music (or “noise”) does the composer craft to narrate the silence of the battlefield and the other events that unfold? Musical analysis and the exploration of text-music relationships will be included.


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  • Event date
    • 10 November 2018

  • Date submitted

    19 July 2022

  • Additional information
    • 'Presenter Biography:

      Dr. Jennifer Campbell, Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Kentucky, specializes in twentieth-century American music, focusing on composers Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Paul Bowles. Her dissertation delves into American musical diplomacy of the early 1940s, chronicling the role music and musicians played in the U.S. government’s attempt to shape relationships with South American leaders. She frequently undertakes interdisciplinary projects, exploring connections between music, dance, art, politics, and cultural identity and has published on such topics in the journal Diplomatic History (2012), in the volume Paul Bowles—The New Generation Do You Bowles? (2014), and in the book Meanings and Makings of Queer Dance (Oxford University Press, 2017). She is a regular presenter on the national and international stage and has shared her research at the annual meetings of the Society for American Music, the American Musicological Society, the Society for Ethnomusicology, as well as at special gatherings such as the Composing American Opera Symposium (2015), the International Musicological Society Congress (2012), the Paul Bowles Centennial Conference in Lisbon, Portugal (2010) and the Culture and International History IV Conference in Cologne, Germany (2009). She holds a Ph.D. in music theory and history and a M.A. in historical musicology from the University of Connecticut and has taught at Central Michigan University, the University of Connecticut, and Central Connecticut State University.