Letter from the Featured Composer: Jeff Byers

First of all, I am no poet myself, to be sure, but I can respect and appreciate the poetic talents of the authors represented by the 25 outstanding poems I was privileged to review. I have not read many poems before with the intent of writing music in response to them, so it was interesting to find that some excellent poems immediately gave rise to musical ideas, whereas other excellent poems did not. One poem, in particular, spoke of Nature’s various silences as the most sublime form of music, so any attempt to write music to that would be at odds with the very point of the poem! Ultimately, about a third of the poems seemed to call for a musical response, out of which I chose 5 that lent themselves to contrasting styles and tempi. I also experimented with impressionistic dissonances and more “free-form” composition but eventually reverted to more standard chords and rhythms. Being an ekphrastic rookie, I felt more comfortable playing it safe. But I hope to have the opportunity to do it again—in composition as in poetry, experience and practice are great teachers. It was truly an honor to be able to participate in Rockvale Review V and I know that visitors to the website as well as to the hard copy will be in for a beautiful treat!





Jeff Byers is a dermatologist, currently Clinical Associate Professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of Dermatology at Vanderbilt. He has been playing the piano and writing music since early childhood. He was in bands in high school and college and was the musical director for the Duke School of Medicine Student-Faculty show for four years. More recently, his musical efforts have been in church (contemporary service band, album of original songs, nationally published choral anthem) and at home with his musical family of six. He currently lives in Brentwood, TN with his wife and youngest son. He is excited about this opportunity to create art inspired by art.