Students learn composition basics through transformative process

Geoffrey Leach

On Feb. 22 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., the Music Department will be presenting the Composers Spring Concert. Six students have each composed a piece of music that will be performed in Chism Recital Hall. Each student has written a unique piece that they have worked on since the fall.

During the Fall Semester, seniors Clayton Collins, Ryan Jacobsen, Writing Support Specialist Jonas Myers, Director of Institutional Research Neal Christopherson, Aaron Stern and Frankie Bones took a class, Music 480, on musical composition in which they worked one-on-one with Adjunct Assistant Professor John Earnest. Earnest has taught this class since 1999 and has always felt deeply connected to the students he mentors.

“When you’re working in a private setting with someone on something as intimate as music and that requires so much of our commitment, you begin to build a bond with the students that you’re working with,” said Earnest.

While Earnest helps the students with the process, the entire performance is heavily dependent on student involvement. The student composers write the pieces and then many students perform the pieces. Even the organization of the concert is completed by the student composers.

“Each composer essentially has to find musicians to play their piece,” said Christopherson.

Neal Christopherson has taken the class for three semesters, and he has learned from this experience

“I feel like I’ve gotten a little more comfortable and confident with my writing,” he said.

Still, Christopherson feels that there is a challenge in writing these pieces. Writing these pieces requires all parts of the brain.

“You kind of have to use both halves of your brain. You have to be creative with it, but there’s also a very technical, logical piece to it as well,” said Christopherson.

His piece, “Wilderness Myth,” is made up of three parts and will be performed by a brass quintet.

The other pieces are “Reproductive Services” by Collins, “Fantasy on a Brahms Waltz” by Jacobsen, “”Three Women’ Rearranged for Piano” by Stern, “Characters From a Novel” by Myers and “The End” by Bones.

Each of these pieces is unique and the composers often draw on different influences. Collins draws heavily on minimalism.

“[Minimalism is] to use very small amounts of starting material and then to kind of spin it out over an extended period of time where you modify it very slowly, so in a lot of ways kind of like reproduction with small changes,” said Collins

Collins focused on minimalism in his piece to learn a new style of composing and to attract the audience’s attention. He wanted his piece to clearly articulate its meaning.

“My goal personally was to practice writing in a style that was stripped down and in that way hopefully accessible to the audience … I wanted to write something that people would hear and understand on the first hearing … in a digital age, in a modern age, where you might only get one shot at capturing someone’s ear. I wanted to get to the very bare bones, minimum,” said Collins

The composers often feel that this experience is transformative and builds a strong knowledge base for their future endeavors in composing music.

“[I] gained so much experience and so much knowledge … that will inform later things that I do in life,” said Collins.

Students, faculty, friends, families and community members are welcomed to join these composers on Sunday to experience the hard work each student has put into his or her piece.