Salt Mines Inspire Local Composer

Natali Contreras

Composer Paul Dooley, photo by Natali Contreras

I thought it was fascinating, this whole underground lair full of salt and industry underneath our very feet. That seemed like a good germ of an idea for a composition.”—Paul Dooley

 

Paul Dooley wrote his first musical composition when he was 12 years old. He says it was a mistake.

At the time, I didn’t know the concept of key signature,” Dooley says. “The piece was in A major, but I played it with no sharps, so I played the wrong notes.”

But upon hearing it the “right” way, Dooley says he preferred his version better. “That was the light bulb for me,” he recalls as how his first composition put him on the path to becoming a professional musician.

Now 33, Dooley estimates he’s composed at least two dozen pieces for all kinds of ensembles, from orchestral to choral. One of his works was inspired by the stories his grandmother told him about the salt mines beneath Detroit.

She was a geographer, so she knew quite a bit about the salt mines,” Dooley says. “I thought it was fascinating, this whole underground lair full of salt and industry underneath our very feet. That seemed like a good germ of an idea for a composition.”

In 2012, the executive director of the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings commissioned Dooley to write a piece for the ensemble. Remembering his grandmother’s stories, Dooley explored the history of the salt mines, and composed “Salt of the Earth” for brass and percussion. In his research, Dooley found a trove of pictures taken inside the mine by photographer Tony Spina.

In fact, I used one of his photos for the cover of ‘Salt of the Earth’,” Dooley says, “this great photo of a man standing on a bridge overlooking a long cave, and there’s a conveyor belt of salt running through the cave.”

Tony Spina, Wayne State University

Photograph by Tony Spina

Dooley estimates the piece has been performed ten to 15 times since its premier. “I’m glad it’s being played and people know about it.”

Learn more about Paul Dooley and listen to “Salt of the Earth” at pauldooley.net. Click the audio player to hear his conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller.

Image credit: Pat Batcheller

About the Author

Pat Batcheller

Senior News Editor & WDET Host, Morning Edition

Hi, I’m Pat Batcheller, your host for WDET’s Morning Edition. I bring you the news, weather, traffic, and information to help you start your weekday.

pbatcheller@wdet.org   Follow @patbwdet

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