Meet the Composers of STRONG SAD: Kurt Knecht / by Jonah Sirota

I first met composer and organist Kurt Knecht when he was a DMA student in composition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (where my string quartet has been in residence for over a decade.) After working on his Missa Prolationem, a piece which won UNL’s Folsom Prize for best doctoral dissertation, I started to collaborate with him on liturgical music for the church where he was organist, St. Marks on the Campus Episcopal Church. My own relationship with religion has been a complex one, but Kurt and I shared an interest in the monastic traditions of plainchant, and together we worked on a contemplative service called “Space,” which featured medieval chant and contemporary improvised compositions written and improvised by Kurt and myself. This collaboration grew into the performing duo Mondegreen. We are now in different cities, but still look for opportunities to collaborate whenever we can.


What is special about working with Kurt is that when we get together to make music, there is a tremendous freedom about how our process might go. Each piece of music we have made together has started from a slightly different place: sometimes one of us brings a chord progression or chart to improvise over, sometimes a rhythmic motive. Kurt has written us through-composed music, and at times we have free-improvised using nothing more than sound and instinct, or as an auditory response to a text.  Whatever our starting point, we document our process and let each piece evolve until it is finds its own inner logic. It's a truly collaborative compositional process. Kurt is such an amazingly creative player, it inspires me every time. The track CURRENTly on the upcoming STRONG SAD album features Mondegreen in a piece that was written by both Kurt and myself. Kurt invented the organ “hook” and original harmonic framework for the piece, and I contributed structural ideas, and improvised the entire viola line. I am so immensely thankful for Kurt and how generously he shares his music and his creativity.


To hear the track CURRENTly:

To learn more about Kurt Knecht:

To preorder or support the STRONG SAD project: