Catherine Branch | Music Of Difference

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Music Of Difference

by Catherine Branch

This album is about starting conversations and increasing awareness of the countless ways difference impacts and shapes all of us throughout our lives. It features Concerto No. 2 "for Catherine" by Robert J. Bradshaw.
Genre: Classical: Chamber Music
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Concerto No. 2 For Catherine: I. Really starting to feel a difference
Catherine Branch, Katelyn Westergard & Albert Kim
4:43 $0.99
2. Concerto No. 2 For Catherine: II. Today I feel altogether unbuttoned
Catherine Branch, Katelyn Westergard & Albert Kim
4:15 $0.99
3. Concerto No. 2 For Catherine: III. Life is a mishmash of really lovely happenings and utterly frustrating things
Catherine Branch, Katelyn Westergard & Albert Kim
6:02 $0.99
4. Hibakusha
Catherine Branch
6:19 $0.99
5. A Perspective: I. Tabula Rosa
Catherine Branch, Katelyn Westergard & Albert Kim
2:43 $0.99
6. A Perspective: II. Numb
Catherine Branch, Katelyn Westergard & Albert Kim
3:58 $0.99
7. A Perspective: III. Symbiosis
Catherine Branch, Katelyn Westergard & Albert Kim
3:23 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
As a flutist with diplegic cerebral palsy, I’ve been given a unique perspective on music’s versatility, especially regarding its ability to act as a catalyst for conversations and an instigator of positive change. During the last several years I’ve been exploring the classical concert as a vehicle to encourage re-evaluation of generalizations, thereby promoting inclusion and equality for people with disabilities. Much of that exploration has been via a concert project called “Music of Difference,” which arose in my travels during 2008-2009 on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.

The Watson fellowship gave me a precious opportunity: to dive freely into the wider world, spending a year reflecting on the experience of disability and what it means to me, connecting with an international community of disabled people, and finding ways to contribute to the disability rights movement with respect and creativity. It was during those first several months abroad that I began connecting with great numbers of other disabled people. (What a refreshing, joyous feeling it was to find other people who walk in shoes similar to my own!) I began learning about the colorful and relatively hidden world of disability arts, and reflected over many a cup of tea about my experiences and perspectives on disability.

I met extraordinary people and heard their stories and struggles, observed drama and music classes being taught to young people with a massive range of body types, and had the chance to teach several classes of disabled children about the world of classical music. And I also traveled to disability arts conventions and symposiums, finding myself overwhelmed by incredibly powerful and creative expressions of life and disability through music, dance and art.
But as I traveled, I was struck by the pervading negativity associated with disability worldwide. I found myself searching for ways to express the gratitude and appreciation I feel toward my unarguably unusual body. I remained convinced that having a disability was not a “defect,” but an experience, that just as each of our experiences shape who we are and who we become, the experience of disability can add a unique and positive perspective to one’s life.

I began writing to composer colleagues and posting to online composition listservs, hoping to gather together a program of music aimed specifically at reflecting positively about disability. I have been so touched by the series of emails that showed up in my inbox, full of scores, stories, gestures of support and encouragement, and even offers to compose pieces especially for the “Music of Difference” project. Several months later, a program made of brand new works had come together, all reflecting on disability from a wide range of perspectives. An Australian pianist, violinist and I joined together to present the first two “Music of Difference” concerts in Sydney and Melbourne. Upon returning to the United States, the “Music of Difference” project continued to grow. The extraordinary performers, composers and visual artist who contributed to this album joined me, and we presented concerts and outreach events at venues in Washington, DC and throughout New York.

Our CD presents three of the works that have been at the center of this project since its beginnings: a piece for solo flute which acted as a catalyst for the “Music of Difference” project, and two trios for flute, violin and piano which were written especially for “Music of Difference.” Each composer has written program notes about their work, which are included later in this booklet. Please take a moment to read those notes in addition to listening to the music; the context in which each of these works was composed is so important. But first, I’d like to take a moment to write a few words of introduction about these unique pieces of music.

The first piece on this album was composed by Robert Bradshaw. Mr. Bradshaw and I had never met when he so generously responded to the call for scores I posted online. We began a conversation about disability, brainstorming together about ways to express the experience musically. The piece that arose from those conversations is based on the unconventional walking motions characteristic of my particular disability. Even for myself, as I strive to encourage positivity about diversity, the physical impact of a disability is a challenge. In all the conversations I’ve had about disability and in all the heartfelt positive words I’ve spoken about my own physicality, it’s rare to hear a truly positive statement about ambulatory challenges. But Mr. Bradshaw has taken the body motions of physical disability and transformed them directly into extraordinary music. This is a remarkable thing: he has turned something that all of us with physical disabilities find difficult into something that any ear would find beautiful.

The second piece presented here is by Houston-based composer Aaron Alon. Mr. Alon has written a piece for flute alone titled Hibakusha, which I had the chance to premiere while Aaron and I were both students at Rice University. Hibakusha is an incredibly striking and communicative piece, and has great personal significance, as it is the first piece of music I ever came across that encouraged listeners to reflect on an experience of disability. In the work, the boundaries of conventional flute playing are stretched, as the performer is asked to make vocalizations, gritty and unstable sounds and charged, aggressive gestures through the use of extended techniques. Hearing the piece with attention to its historical context gives these unusual sounds powerful meaning.

Our album closes with a piece by Angelique Poteat. Ms. Poteat is a dear friend and talented composer who has written a colorful work exploring her relationship with her sister, who, like me, has cerebral palsy. A Perspective is almost a theatrical piece without words: the flute and violin take on the roles of Angelique and her sister, respectively. The piano serves to create a series of environments in which the two siblings interact, from early childhood to adulthood.

My hope in presenting this album is not only to share these extraordinary pieces of music and the powerful messages they carry. "Music of Difference" is about starting conversations, about increasing awareness of the countless ways difference impacts and shapes all of us throughout our lives. Your stories, your thoughts and your responses to the music and ideas we’ve shared here are the vital next step. So please, feel welcome to lend your voice to this conversation.

The project’s email address is

Catherine Branch



On January 30, 2009, I had the pleasure of reading a call for scores written by Catherine Branch. Catherine was a research fellow of the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, exploring the disabled experience throughout the world. Catherine lives with diplegic cerebral palsy and feels very strongly that music can be a catalyst for conversation, reflection and an instigator of change. Moved by her request, I contacted Catherine and we began a lengthy dialog conducted entirely through email.

Catherine wrote, “Just before leaving London I was chatting about [the project] with my host, Jo Paul, who happens to be a scenographer and designer with spina bifida. Jo came up with a really inspiring suggestion. She and I both have been told that, due to our unconventional walking styles, we seem to move about in “our own kind of dance.” Once, a friend of Jo’s said that the rhythm of her walk was quite similar to the rhythm of his mother’s walk (who had MS.)
Catherine continued with a discussion about the idea of disability resulting in beautiful rhythms of movement rather than awkward gaits, wobbles, or limps. I was quick to respond as I thought this concept was one of the most beautiful, positive and personal ways to express the beauty of individuality I had ever heard. Over the following weeks Catherine sent me videos and I researched over the internet. Using a number of audio and video applications, I carefully mapped out the movements of several people, but focusing primarily on Catherine’s videos, for the creation of this work. I found that the complexity of the movements, when separated into individual rhythmic tracks, was remarkably similar to my own interpretation of rhythmic structures. Metered grace notes, pointillistic accompaniments, counterpoint and trading of melodic and internal lines all synchronized beautifully with the different video transcriptions. I felt right at home - proving that these walks were not awkward, just different. And that is one of the things that makes them (and this project) so special. Please join me, disregarding labels placed on us by science or society, in celebrating Catherine and all people for being both similar and different.

Now, for a little controversy...

I feel, the celebration of uniqueness has at times stifled a vitally important aspect of composition. The result relegates formal or obvious external influence to the classroom. There are, of course, notable exceptions but I wonder, “How can we ever hope to craft exceptional works if our only goal (both in composing and in how our music is judged and critiqued) is to be different?” Instead of reinventing composition every time we write, we should build on the rich foundation of works that have come before us. That is not to say innovation should be held back, just not the singular goal.

This project gave me the opportunity to put my beliefs into practice. For me, the goal of the Music of Difference project is to celebrate and respect our differences as well as emphasize and recognize our similarities. Therefore, from the outset, I planned to create a work that was firmly rooted in traditional compositional practices, demonstrated by actual works from the flute literature. I would apply musical concepts that were unconventional but attempt to make the final product sound as accessible as traditional works in the literature.
Of course, this first meant an in-depth study of standard, obscure and modern flute repertoire. As I studied, certain elements common to the repertoire began to emerge. The question was, how could these musical concepts be internalized to such a degree that when predetermined metric, rhythmic and harmonic devices and structures were applied, the work would still sound traditional? This was the central focus of the composition process.

In the end, a number of these influences are presented on the surface, obvious references to compositions or composers who have influenced this work. Other references are so subtle or modified by the employed rhythmic or harmonic devices, that they are no longer recognizable or identifiable. These references may appear at any level, from the smallest motive to overarching structural forms, or of a thematic, harmonic and rhythmic nature - that is, as much as possible and redefined by the harmonic and rhythmic foundation of the work. It was important to explore these ideas in a new way but at the same time, not be so different as to lose sight of the original influence. This represents the fact that our similarities, as one society, far outweigh our differences.

On the surface, this may appear to be an academic exercise but I guarantee that this was not my intention. I am hoping that although the work is firmly grounded in a pitch set, that the rhythmic structures were derived from video of Catherine walking, and that some of the composition itself is an exploration of various elements of music that have influenced me throughout my musical life (and in my study preparing to write this work), that the end result is emotionally engaging and structured in such a way that the listener is able to follow the musical journey from the first note to the last. And yes, in the end, it is a rather unique work - which I think is the point. We don’t always have to look out at the horizon to create something different.

And of course, I must thank all of the wonderful composers who have inspired me and this composition. It has been a joy getting to know you through your exquisite music and I look forward to many more years learning from you.

Robert J. Bradshaw


Following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many survivors were plagued with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These survivors are known as Hibakusha. This piece seeks to capture their numb state of shock, sometimes described as a ‘frozen dream,’ as they were ever-haunted by their devastating past and in icy disbelief of their present. While this was first envisioned as a larger ensemble piece, there is something profoundly isolating about their condition, which suggested the solo instrumental treatment adopted here.

Aaron Alon


“A Perspective” attempts to portray the emotions experienced over several stages in development by a child with an older sibling that has a profound disability. The piece does not seek to dwell on the disability itself, but to show the interaction between the siblings. Over the several stages of development, their roles fluctuate until they are finally reversed.

The first movement, “Tabula Rosa,” approaches the earliest stage of development. The overall tone of the movement is playful, as the older sibling assumes a proud teaching role. To the younger sibling, who is new to the world, the relationship seems as perfectly normal as any relationship. The disability is simply not an issue.

In some situations, the disability requires that the afflicted spend some amount of time in the hospital. “Numb” attempts to capture a wide array of emotions, from confusion to despair and helplessness, felt by the younger sibling when confronted with the reality of being unable to ease the burdens of the older sibling. The natural reaction by some is to act out, while in others it is to close up and assume a numb façade.

“Symbiosis” looks at the mature adult stage of development between the siblings. There is some give and take in the relationship, as the younger sibling assumes more of the elderly role because of the severity of the disability. At this point, each of the siblings has developed their own preferences and passions, but they have the added benefit of complete support from their other sibling.

Angelique Poteat



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