Joseph Hasper
Joseph Hasper


21 Apr 2017

Spring Composition Classes Come To An End

On Thursday, April 13, seven of my composition students at Kutztown University gave a recital of their works--and it was a fantastic experience for them. Students were responsible for not only composing finished works worthy of public performance, but also finding performers for their own pieces, preparing parts for each instruments, rehearsing the ensemble, and conducting the performance (if required). Without exception each student did a masterful job with each phase of the project, and I'm really proud of the work they put into it.

It is critically important for student composers to hear their own works, and hear them in a public setting. Our modern software (we use Finale primarily, with some use of Notion and MuseScore, Pro Tools and Ableton Live) lets us hear our compositions as we're working on them, and with enough care in the details and the right virtual instruments we can hear them with pretty good fidelity to a live performance. The public showing of a work, though--as performed by live musicians--is irreplaceable. Using live performers reveals all the difficulties and uncertainties we put musicians through; we can gauge their reactions to the music and measure the levels of skill and the effort it take to reproduce our scores. The addition of a live audience, though, adds even more: students hear the work performed under the stress of public scrutiny; they get a feel for how a piece works in the context of a larger set of pieces; and they can judge the reaction a crowd listening to their music.

At some universities it takes relatively little effort from student composers to get their works performed. At some colleges there are ensembles--including capable and willing conductor--organized and set up specifically for the performance of student works. At other colleges a professor or a graduate student will take care of recruiting the musicians required for each piece, and will rehearse and conduct the work in concert. My students had to do it all, and I made them go through that pain for a practical reason: all of the behind the scenes preparatory work they had to do is part of the successful composer's skill set, and there is no better place to learn those skills than as a young undergraduate.

The result is that there is more risk involved. Some students have no trouble at all enlisting performers, whether by having strong social skills or by using strong arm tactics. Others have great difficulty finding performers. Both types of students, though, have to deal with not only finding performers but finding the best ones they can, and hopefully ones that are invested in and experienced with new music. Once they have performers lined up, they have to deal with the difficulties of rehearsal: finding rehearsal space, juggling several schedules to find rehearsals times, and cajoling their performers to practice their parts and show up to rehearsal on time. Finally, they have to not only conduct the work but also rehearse it, with the requirements of being able to detect, isolate, and correct errors along with keeping the tempo and character on track.

It's a lot to put on the plate of a busy undergraduate student. The result of a heavy plate, though, is a good meal.



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