Speaking Through Song: Dr. Morell’s All Without Words

Dr. Justin Morell during the recording of All Without Words

On Sept. 27, Dr. Justin Morell, associate professor of music, traveled to the University of Miami (UM) and the Henry Mancini Institute for a residency and the live premiere of his album, All Without Words.

All Without Words is an album Morell wrote to share his perspective as a parent of a non-verbal autistic child. After toying with the idea for some time, he finally decided to include Loren, his son, in the composition process.

“It occurred to me one night to sit with him and record his vocalizations—I thought maybe his voice could be part of the piece somehow,” Morell said. “When I listened to the recording later, I discovered two short melodies that basically became the theme of All Without Words.”

“I always want to be clear when I speak about the piece that I am not trying to speak through the music on behalf of my son but to reflect on my experience as his parent.”

The album was a collaborative process with Morell’s long-time friend and colleague, John Daversa, chair of the jazz program at the University of Miami. Daversa played on the album and committed to the project and mission Morell had envisioned for the album.

“We hoped the project would bring many people together for a kind of community healing in which we take time to view each other with compassion,” Morell said. “John is the one person I trusted without hesitation to bring the music to life.”

To Morell, composing is always a very personal experience. Such was the case with All Without Words but in a slightly different way.

“As I worked on the piece, I was constantly reconnected to Loren’s theme and in the idea that it came from him,” Morell said. “I felt an exceptional responsibility to make the piece musically successful. Since the album was released, I have spoken about the making and meaning of the project. While it does mean talking about my family’s personal experiences, I think it serves the mission of the project—which is to celebrate the humanity of every person.”

Morell teaches musical composition at LVC, which he states is often a solitary and mentally complex process. However, he encourages his students to embrace personal expression on projects that hold the potential for such messages.

“Composing around musical ideas that we really connect with helps give us the motivation to realize the vision,” Morell said. “Ultimately, music should always connect to honesty and personal meaning.”

Morell’s trip to Miami was the culmination of his and Daversa’s work on the album. The Frost School at the University of Miami and Henry Mancini Institute performed the piece on the UM campus. Maria Schneider, director of the Mancini Institute, has supported Morell’s work on All Without Words.

“She is one of the most accomplished and profound composers creating music today, certainly one of my musical heroes,” Morell said. “It was amazing to be in the room with the orchestra to hear them playing this music together.”

 

- Josh Hildebrand, Marketing & Communications Student Assistant