by Connie Mattison
A 1986 graduate of Belmond High School, Deanna Hahn-Little has made a name for herself in the music world. She received a bachelors degree in music education from the University of Northern Iowa, went to England to study with Trevor Wye for a year, then received her masters from Indiana University in flute performance. Finally, she received her doctorate from Indiana in flute performance and literature. For the past 20 years she has been professor of flute at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro,TN.
In 2014 Hahn-Little was awarded funding through an MTSU grant. “I wanted to create something that combined various art forms of people immersed in the culture of Tennessee, with the result being new music, all using the work of Dolly Parton as their inspiration,” said Hahn-Little. The end product of the four-year endeavor is a CD of seven new and original compositions.
“I like thinking outside the box and coming up with creative projects, instigating new music for the flute, music that has a bit of folk/jazz/pop elements, ” she said. ”I love the interesting variety of music in Nashville from country to blues to jazz to classical.”
Her grant project, Inspirations from Tennessee, known as “The Dolly Project,” united musicians, composers, recording engineers and artists.
“I grew up knowing about Dolly Parton – from her movies plus she was one of my parents’ favorite country singers,” Hahn-Little explained. Parton is a Tennessee-born singer, songwriter and author, which made her the perfect choice for the project’s inspiration. Hahn-Little commissioned seven Tennessee composers to write music for the flute, all of which incorporated a flavor of Parton’s work. Each composer was asked to base their work on Parton’s song “Coat of Many Colors.”
One composition was inspired by Parton’s book “I Am a Rainbow” which uses the colors of the rainbow to teach children about expressing emotions. The composer asked to use this story, as his young daughter loved the book and had received it from the Imagination Library (a book gifting program begun by Parton that mails free books to children from birth until they begin school in participating areas.) The composer’s daughter reads from the book in the piece.
Bible verses from chapter 37 of Genesis and Psalm 40 reference Joseph’s “coat of many colors.” One of the compositions was based on those verses and equates Joseph’s trials with Parton’s childhood poverty.
Another piece was written for six flutes; It was recorded live, and then re-recorded in a studio. It uses the rhythm of a sewing machine, which Parton grew up hearing while her mother made clothes for her family.
Hahn-Little performed each of the seven compositions on alto flute, base flute, contra flute or piccolo.
Although Hahn-Little has never met Dolly Parton, she had to work with Parton’s lawyers to get legal permission for the use of lyrics and the book. Hahn-Little still has hopes that one day she finds a way to tell Parton about the project.
The work was completed in July 2019. Because the project was funded by grants, Hahn-Little cannot profit from selling the CDs. However, she would love to share her work with anyone who might remember her or be interested in listening to the CD. It is available free at the Talbot Belmond Public Library for anyone who would like a copy.