Young composers create music in just one week

In Music
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COLUMBIA — When Cheyenne Stumpf can’t get her hands on an instrument to learn how to play it, she makes her own version with cardboard cutouts and string.

Stumpf, 17, a student from Cuba, Missouri, said she is one of the few composers in her small town and didn’t realize composing could be a career for her until about a year ago.

“I really liked writing music, but I didn’t know it was a living,” Stumpf said. “I thought people just did it at the same time as they were teachers or something.”

Stumpf came to MU to participate for the first time in the Missouri Summer Composition Institute’s weeklong summer camp . The camp, which is in its 10th year, challenged 15 budding composers between the ages of 13 and 19 to create a piece of music, which would be brought to life by MU musicians in a performance on Saturday.

Because the students didn’t know what type of instruments they would be composing music for, they couldn’t begin writing until after they arrived at the camp.

“It’s a very intense week for them because they have to start and finish a piece of music within the span of five days,” Jacob Gotlib, managing director of the Mizzou New Music Initiative said.

The students spend the week learning to use an online program called Finale to write their music and create a score for the musicians to read. They also have private lessons with MU professors throughout the week to get help with their work.

“It’s a trial by fire, and it’s a way for them to really learn to trust their ears and trust their musical instinct and work quickly and efficiently,” Gotlib said.

Stumpf said the week was difficult, but she is able to write music very quickly.

“I’m not a super precise musician,” Stumpf said. “I like to consider myself a ‘McDonald’s composer,’ as weird as that sounds because I compose very fast.”

Stumpf began writing music as a way to help her practice and improve her playing of the clarinet in high school, but then her band teacher gave her the opportunity to compose a piece for the spring band concert her senior year.

“We ended up playing a song that used to be two songs, but my band director couldn’t choose between them, so I sewed them together and made one song,” Stumpf said. “Everyone loved it, and I was really proud of myself because I’m not a super confident person, but I’ve come way out of my shell since I was just writing simple tunes.”

Stumpf draws her inspiration for writing music from classic rock artists like The Beatles or Led Zeppelin. She said she also enjoys writing music with instruments like the sitar to create music that “sounds unique to the Western ear.”

“I think there should be way more support for Indian music, Eastern music in our culture, just to make it more of a melting pot,” Stumpf said.

Holden Franklin, 17, a student from Perryville, Missouri, was at the camp for his third year. He began composing when he was in seventh grade. Franklin said he enjoys helping his friends work out problems in their lives, and he approaches writing music with the same mentality.

“I always tell people that I love problem solving,” Franklin said. “There are so many different paths you can take, and if you have one idea in your brain, you get to look at all the different paths to see which one takes you to your final result.”

Franklin said he would describe his style as emotional and contemporary. He loves dynamic contrast in his pieces, so he plays around with many levels of volume with as many instruments as he can.

“I’m kind of an extremist, I guess you could say,” Franklin said. “I love putting as many instruments as possible into my scores and then writing these big, grand, humongous scores of stuff.”

Franklin said the camp has helped him refine his skills in the past few years and learn to write with more complexity. He said he can see his growth within the pieces of music he has composed each year.

“Over the years, I’ve just learned so much from this camp,” he said.


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