Sarah Hennies "Contralto"

The Samuel Dorsky Museum and the SUNY New Paltz Department of Music are pleased to present a screening of “Contralto,” groundbreaking composer Sarah Hennies' highly regarded one-hour work for video, strings, and percussion, and featuring a cast of transgender women.  

A watch party and discussion of “Contralto” will occur on Sunday, April 18th at 1pm.

The work will be streaming here for one week, from April 16th – April 23rd.  


"Contralto" is a one-hour work for video, strings, and percussion that exists in between the spaces of experimental music and documentary. The piece features a cast of transgender women speaking, singing, and performing vocal exercises accompanied by a dense and varied musical score that includes a variety of conventional and "non-musical" approaches to sound-making.


When a transgender man begins taking testosterone it causes his vocal cords to thicken and his voice deepens and drops into the so-called "masculine range." It is not widely known, however, that trans women's voices are unaffected by higher levels of estrogen in the body. Being a woman with a "male voice" creates a variety of difficult situations for trans women including prolonged and intensified dysphoria and higher risk of harassment and violence due to possibly exposing someone as trans unintentionally. "Contralto," defined in musical terms as "the lowest female singing voice," uses the sound of trans women's voices to explore transfeminine identity from the inside and examines the intimate and peculiar relationship between gender and sound.


Groundbreaking composer, performer and audio-visual artist Sarah Hennies has joined the SUNY New Paltz Department of Music this semester as part of the Kenneth Davenport Residency for New American Music. Hennies, who presents her work across the world as a composer and percussionist, is known for enhancing her compositions with live visual performance elements like dance and film. Her pioneering, highly physical style, as well as her ongoing exploration of societal themes like queer and trans identity, love, and intimacy, has garnered her several accolades, fellowships, commissions, and grants. Hennies’ highly regarded 2017 work, “Contralto,” has made her an in-demand act across North America, Europe, and Australia. As this semester’s Davenport Resident, Hennies will lead music students in composing a music score, meeting weekly to workshop their pieces. The finished work, “Untitled for Five or More Players,” will premiere on the Listen Forward YouTube channel at 7pm on April 20.

About Sarah Hennies

Sarah Hennies (b. 1979, Louisville, KY) is a composer based in upstate New York whose work is concerned with a variety of musical, sociopolitical, and psychological issues including queer & trans identity, love, intimacy, psychoacoustics, and percussion. She is primarily a composer of acoustic chamber music, but is also active in improvisation, film, and performance art. She presents her work internationally as both a composer and percussionist with notable performances at MoMA PS1 (NYC), Monday Evening Concerts (Los Angeles), Le Guess Who (Utrecht), Festival Cable (Nantes), send + receive (Winnipeg), O’ Art Space (Milan), Cafe Oto (London), ALICE (Copenhagen), and the Edition Festival (Stockholm). As a composer, she has received commissions across a wide array of performers and ensembles including Bearthoven, Bent Duo, Cristian Alvear, Claire Chase, R. Andrew Lee, Talea Ensemble, Thin Edge New Music Collective, Two-Way Street, Nate Wooley, and Yarn/Wire.

She is the recipient of a 2019 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award, a 2016 fellowship in music/sound from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and has received additional support from New Music USA, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County.

Sarah is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Bard College.

This screening is made possible in part by the Esmark Creativity Project. The Esmark Creativity Project fosters creativity in all its forms, without boundaries. Using the SUNY New Paltz Dorsky Museum as a venue, the project supports programs which serve to encourage creativity on campus and in the community at large.

 The Kenneth Davenport Residency for New American Music at SUNY New Paltz is made possible by the College’s Kenneth Davenport Endowment, established in 1985 by the School of Fine & Performing Arts and the Davenport Family. The program commissions modern American composers to work with students on the creation of a piece of music.


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