frank stemper

The Persistence of Honor (2009)
for chamber orchestra — 10 mins.


The Persistence of Honor was commissioned by the Dutch chamber orchestra, Het Wagenings Orkest ‘Sonante’, as part of their 25th anniversary celebration.  It was premiered in November 2009 by that orchestra in the Netherlands, directed by their dedicated and extremely talented conductor, Melvin Margolis.

In the music, you will probably notice a continuous, unrelenting – almost annoying – repetition of a rising pensive refrain.  Although this idea repeats “persistently,” it never repeats exactly.  Tiny musical changes create a continuous evolution of this refrain, with each statement delivering the same message in a slightly different way.

As a composer, I feel that music exists on a considerably higher level than anything in the real, physical world – especially politics.  However, the inspiration (or perhaps catalyst) for my composition was the United States' presidential election in November 2008.  In that single day, the country not only profoundly transformed itself from a regime BACK to a democracy, but, the election of the first African American President made perhaps the strongest statement to date in reversing and healing what is perhaps the United States' greatest sin.  In an instant, 40,000,000 Americans, for the first time, actually felt like Americans.

This seems to me to be an example of honor rising above amorality.  Every day the entire world is reminded of all the ills, created by dishonor, that define our civilization, i.e. wars, crime, maniacal leaders, racism, etc., etc.  These ills seem to indicate that the dishonorable, the aggressively brutal and destructive members of our species, are bit-by-bit destroying our civilization’s goodness, decency, integrity and honesty.  This might point to a very bleak future for the human race.  However, as this Obama fellow gained momentum, was overwhelmingly elected, and then sworn in as the 44th U.S. President, it occurred to me to be a validation of what I suspect: The human species is still evolving, and its future is NOT at all bleak.  Just as Darwin’s Natural Selection transforms every species to become “better” in order to enable its continued existence -- so will our species.  The proof of this is that, scientifically, we must.  Through gentle, continuous
Persistence of Honor, dishonor will eventually be eliminated from the world’s society.





Last Updated: May 20, 2012


The Persistence of Honor was Premiered in The Netherlands in 2009.  The American Premiere was given three years later by the Chicago Chamber Orchestra at the Chicago Cultural Center. The conductor, Edward Benyas, programed the piece to Celebrate Barack Obama's re-election. That performance was a free concert on a Sunday afternoon, in downtown Chicago just off the Michgan Ave. main drag, and open to everyone downtown that afternoon.  

A couple of weeks after the concert I received an email from a homeless woman who just happened to come into the building that afternoon, perhaps to get warm or, as she says, she heard the music from the chamber orchestra.  (I also think the Cultural Center was offering some free refreshments.)

I was quite taken with the email, and this woman making the effort, being moved by the music , as well as her own hidden story.  Of course I responded to her right away, although I wondered how she was able to use email.  After some investigation I learned that homeless shleters often have computers available for those who come for food, etc.  A month later, Ms. Sellers responded to my email.

Those three emails are compied below.

  • Persistence of Honor 10:23

October 30, 2012

Dear Karen,
Thank you for the email and your very kind words about my music, "The Persistence of Honor."  I'm glad you enjoyed the whole program on Sunday and wrote to me about my piece.
You say that you are a composer, too.  That's wonderful.  Can you tell me something about yourself, your background, education - music teachers, composition teacher.  And especially tell me about your music.  My parents also loved music and have passed away.  My mother was a Jazz Singer in Milwaukee and my dad was a psychiatrist - a pretty good combination for a composer.
Thanks again for your email, and I will look forward to hearing about you and YOUR music!

Frank Stemper
Composer In Residence (Professor)
Southern Illinois University - School of Music
1000 Normal Avenue
Carbondale, Illinois 62901-4302

On November 30, 2012, at 2:34 PM, Karen s Sellers wrote:

Helo, Frank! To respond, I don't have a very formal education; and certainly not in music! I played a little piano years back, and organ. I now play a bit of guitar. My music is based mainly on Scripture, and giving glory to Christ. It's folks-y, mainly; I have had, at times, classical tunes; but lost those, because I did not score them. (in fact, nothings' scored; it's all recorded or retained to memory.)The other music that I have done, is personal. That's about my story, and my mothers'. I had a teacher who worked with Moody Bible Institute, and a friend who also studied under her; his name was Gus Varela; he played, at age 17, "Moonlight Sonata" as well as anyone that I've ever heard play it! Then there was me, struggling thru sonatinas, "Fur Elise", and "Jesu, Joy of Mans' Desiring", that sort of piece. (at the same age as he!) I am grateful to Ms Bird, and hope that I adequately expressed that to her. Meantime, I luv good music; from classical, to Klezmer; many genres of Christian music; folk, rock; and my latest group is Mumford and Sons, that I enjoy. Perhaps we may enjoy another performance soon; will you be in Chicago again? Or will "The Persistence of Honor" be presented in public? Thank you! for taking time in a busy day to email me back. Peace.  Ms  Karen  Sue  Sellers

On Oct 29, 2012, at 2:34 PM, Karen s Sellers wrote:

Mr Stemper, I enjoy your piece, "The Persistence of Honor". I heard it, and heard of you for the first time yesterday. I had wandered up to the Preston Bradley Hall to look, heard music, walked in, and was uplifted for the next hour or so. I was sorry only that I'd not known of it earlier in the day! I had been downtown for church and thought that I'd stop by the old library, the Cultural Center, there. I wish that I'd spoken to you; (I'm a composer myself; nothing published as yet) and appreciate you and the orchestra and maestro. My mom, who luved classical music, has passed away; as well as my father, some years back. I live in subsidized housing; am under the poverty level; and it's not difficult to live here, in this (ghetto) bluidling; it's impossible. You all cannot know how the music touched me; I was in tears. Thank you all again, and God bless you. Ms  Karen  Sue  Sellers