Ohio Wesleyan Professor Reimagines Bach for 21st Century

Jennifer Jolley’s ‘Toy Trolley’ Composition will Debut Feb. 23 in Chicago
Jennifer Jolley. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jolley)

Jennifer Jolley. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jolley)

DELAWARE, OHIO – When Ohio Wesleyan University assistant professor Jennifer Jolley was invited to reimagine Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, she quickly jumped on board.

“It’s a mash-up between Bach’s ‘Brandenburg Concerto No. 5’ and Steve Reich’s ‘Different Trains,’ with some musical bits of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Trolley thrown in,” Jolley says of her composition “Spielzeug Straßenbahn” or “Toy Trolley.”

Jolley’s composition is one of six reimagined Bach pieces that will be performed along with their original inspirations during three concerts Feb. 21-24 at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Her contribution to the “21st Century Brandenburg Project” was commissioned and will be performed by the Chicago-based Baroque Band, considered one of America’s leading period instrument groups. The piece will be performed Feb. 23.

Each new composition reimagines a piece presented by Bach as part of his Brandenburg concertos in 1721. The music was selected, according to the Baroque Band, because it contains an “unprecedented variety of instruments and combinations for its time. These six [Bach] works are considered by many as the greatest music created during the Baroque era.”

Jolley, who joined the Ohio Wesleyan faculty this fall, began work on her composition in November.

“I have to admit, this project was a bit intimidating,” she says. “Here I’m asked not only to reinvent a piece that Bach wrote, but also to reinvent a piece that is one of the hallmarks of Baroque music. The Brandenburg concertos are in everyone’s collective musical consciousness. Everyone has heard these pieces before whether they identify them as Brandenburg concertos or not. So, my approach in writing the piece was to take fragments from the Brandenburg concerto and create a piece of music that I would feel comfortable writing.”

Jolley, who earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, is influenced in her work by city sounds and urban geographical environments. Those influences contributed to “Toy Trolley.”

“If there is one thing I love about Chicago, it’s its trains,” she wrote for the program description of her composition. “And to me, trains have a constant musical energy about them (similar to Brandenburg concertos), and I was instantly reminded of this upon viewing the jolly Neighborhood Trolley from the iconic educational television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. This toy trolley merrily converses with characters and easily traverses both Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. With this in mind, I make my musical offering in the form of a toy trolley, one that will bridge the gap between my twenty-first century contribution and Bach’s eighteenth-century one, taking us to an imagined time and place that I have never traveled.”

Jolley also is the co-founder of the North American New Opera Workshop (NANOWorks), a chamber opera company devoted to developing and staging short contemporary operas by emerging North American composers. She also authors “Why Compose When You Can Blog?”, an online publication about contemporary composing. Before joining Ohio Wesleyan, she taught music theory, orchestration, and composition lessons at the University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University.

Learn more about the Ohio Wesleyan Department of Music.


Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier small, private universities. Ohio Wesleyan offers more than 90 undergraduate majors, sequences, and courses of study, and 23 NCAA Division III varsity sports. OWU combines an internationally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities that connect classroom theory with real-world practice. Located in Delaware, Ohio, OWU’s 1,850 students represent 41 states and 45 countries. The university is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” listed on the 2012 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with distinction, and included on the “best colleges” lists of U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review. Learn more at www.owu.edu.

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