Past Performing Arts | Music

Brian Harnetty

Shawnee, Ohio

Wex Commissioned Project | World Premiere

Artist photo

“Working like a novelist, Harnetty has immersed himself in an archive of field recordings—slices of past lives—and now emerges to create a new text, breathing new life into old chunks of sound by radically recontextualising them.”—The Wire (UK)

Columbus-based composer and musician Brian Harnetty weaves together field recordings, sonic archives, and live music in this evocative new Wex-commissioned work that examines the coal-mining past and fracking present of this small, Appalachian Ohio village. His band for this performance includes Columbus-based cellist Jane Van Voorhis; Anna Roberts-Gevalt of Anna and Elizabeth on banjo and violin; and Jeremy Woodruff on sax and flute, among other outstanding players. Together they illuminate the layers of history and memory linked to the present-day reality of Shawnee, one of a group of southeastern Ohio coal-mining communities known as the Little Cities of Black Diamonds, where Harnetty’s family has deep roots.

Structured around 11 chapters that serve as portraits of Shawnee residents living and deceased, Harnetty’s new work critically engages ecology, energy, place, and personal history to ask: What are the sounds of mining? Of fracking? Of a town fighting to survive after a century of economic decline and environmental degradation? Shawnee’s history includes coal, gas, and clay extraction and the formation of early labor unions. The town’s downturn and partial restoration echo the struggles and hopes of the larger region, now immersed in a controversial fracking boom. Harnetty’s Shawnee, Ohio considers these histories, evokes place through sound, and listens to the present alongside traces of the past.

Shawnee, Ohio is co-commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University with support from Duke Performances at Duke University and the Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati). Shawnee, Ohio is a project of Creative Capital.Support for the Wexner Center’s presentation of Shawnee, Ohio is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts with additional support from the Johnstone Fund for New Music.

Artist photo

Brian Harnetty, Photo by Jennifer Harnetty

Photo of 2nd Street, Shawnee

2nd Street; Shawnee, Ohio, Photo courtesy of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds Archive

Artist standing in a tunnel

Brian Harnetty, Photo by Kevin Davison

Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

National Endowment for the Arts
Johnstone Fund for New Music

The Blackwell

Greater Columbus Arts Council
Ohio Arts Council
Columbus Foundation
Nationwide Foundation


Past Performing Arts

Brian Harnetty