Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Leadership Institute

If you didn’t know, I’m a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia – the world’s oldest and largest social fraternity in music. I believe we are the third fastest growing fraternity of any kind – which is crazy! This is an organization that has given me so much throughout my years here at Northwestern, not only in the form of great brotherhood among the brothers here at Iota Chapter, but also through meeting many other brothers of Phi Mu Alpha across the country. One of the opportunities for making these national connections is the annual Leadership Institute, held in Evansville, Indiana, where our headquarters is located. Having participated last year, I was excited to be a part of this experience again – but this time, I registered for the parallel, more music-focused Ultimate Musical Experience (UME).

I knew that the UME would entail singing in the Men of Song Chorus, as I had done last year, but this year it was different. The music was more challenging, we had more time slotted for rehearsal, and the other lecture and seminar type activities were all geared towards becoming a better musician instead of general leadership. Many were specifically geared towards becoming a better music director, which was perfect since I’ll be taking on that roll in the upcoming fall with my own Iota Chapter.

I especially enjoyed being able to participate in the choral conducting masterclass run by the amazing Chase Moore – one of the co-directors of our choir this year who also happens to be an unbelievably talented piano player. I had fond memories of us getting to know each other last year and I was very excited that I had been selected to participate in his conducting masterclass. In fact, it turned out that this masterclass was exactly what I needed at this stage in my music directorship, as I was able to mostly hold my own in directing the choir with Chase alongside me giving me some specific tips and possibilities for improvement that I could really latch onto and work on in the future. At the end of the institute, I even got a chance to conduct all of the leadership institute participants in a fraternity song that I quite enjoy!

Overall, I had another fantastic year at Leadership Institute/UME. These are definitely the types of experiences that stay with you to better you not only as a musician, but as a person in general. Here’s a photo of me along with our national president, national executive director, and a few other friends from my province!

On and ever upward!

Illumination – Performed by the Contemporary Music Ensemble

The Contemporary Music Ensemble at Northwestern played a piece I wrote!

The concert was on May 5th, almost a month ago, so this post is a little late, but I definitely wanted to discuss the experience. I knew that I would be writing for this ensemble since around this time last year, but of course like a true college student I didn’t start working on the piece until about a month before the deadline. Turned out not to be the greatest plan since my spring was loaded with other music that I had to write for my senior recital and a reading for the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, but I managed to finish the piece and submit it in time.

The rehearsals were a great experience, as they always are, and I learned a lot – I say that for every rehearsal of my music, but it’s true! This one was a bit different, I must say, since it was the first time a major Bienen ensemble put on a work of mine at a concert. Moving up in the world! It was an absolute delight to work with conductor and friend Taichi, who shaped my piece wonderfully.

The main takeaways from the experience was not, however, during the rehearsal process. It occurred after the concert, when everyone was still milling about the concert hall. Out of nowhere, someone I had never met before came up to me and told me she “absolutely loved” the piece. As a composition student who studies in a school of music, constantly surrounded by friends, it had been a very long time since a complete stranger had told me they loved my music. It felt great, and reaffirmed the feeling that hey, maybe I can do this.

A bit afterwards, as I was congratulating Taichi, I had to fortune of finally being introduced to Maestro Yampolsky – the director of orchestras at Northwestern. He’s quite a notorious figure in the world of Bienen, and I hadn’t expected to meet him in this context, so I was quite intimidated at first (what if he hated my music?). But as it turns out, he really liked it! That was just such a nice unexpected addition to the night that once again helped lift my spirits.

Overall, I’m extremely glad I had the opportunity to write for such a great group of musicians. Here’s hoping that I get another chance next year!

Landscapes Recording

Landscapes recording is up! I’m very proud of this work that I was able to bring to life with a group of incredible musicians. You can find it here:

Program Notes and Ensemble:

Landscapes (2017)

Landscapes is in part a summation of my experience here at Northwestern and in part a love letter to the world of wind ensemble music, both of which have contributed largely to my persona and have nurtured me in times of need. Each movement was titled after a location that has inspired or resonated with me in some way. Each location was chosen to represent a certain aspect of my time at Northwestern.

I. Route 13 (Streetlights Highway at Night)
The titular highway is one that runs through my home town of Ithaca NY. It traverses from the heights of uptown, where I spent most of my formative years, to downtown, where my high school lies. This highway sits directly on the East side of the valley and is flanked by the beautiful Cayuga Lake. Its steepness allows for some beautiful views of the lights of Ithaca at night. However, the scene that mesmerized me the most is not the glittering lights of the city itself, but rather the regular and rhythmic visual created by the streetlights as I remember them during my thoughtful drives just before coming to Northwestern. This movement represents the beginnings of my college experiences. I tried to capture the excitement and wide-eyed optimism that I felt during my first year as I explored the newfound opportunities and freedoms. Quotes of the Ithaca High School Alma Mater can be heard in snippets, composed by friend and colleague Michael Stern.

II. The Mountains
My first trips to the west coast can be directly attributed to my involvement with the band program here at Northwestern. The majesty and awe of witnessing true desert mountains up close for the first time was a powerful experience. With this movement I hope to convey the strength and resilience of the friendships and other interpersonal connections I have cultivated throughout my time at Northwestern, which I hope will keep as steady as those very mountains. I dedicate this movement to the brothers of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia and their unyielding support.

III. The Cold, Dark Lake
For all its opportunities and vitality, the Northwestern campus can sometimes become a difficult and stressful place. Many students struggle with academic and social pressures that can often become overwhelming. It is a side of college not frequently discussed, yet extremely important to viewing the experience as a whole. This movement is my attempt at depicting some of my own struggles in this area. It is largely inspired by Lake Michigan, which during the day, can appear so calm and beautiful, yet become a cold and dangerous vastness at night.

IV. Stargazing from Skyscrapers
This movement is inspired by “The First Poem in the Imaginary Book” by Sarah Kay and “The Old Astronomer” by Sarah Williams, and is dedicated to Lauren Barmore. It is a recomposition of my previous piece “Stars of the Old Astronomer.”

V. Interlude
This movement serves as a short interlude, referencing much of the material from the first movement. This movement serves as my connection to the musical aspects of this university, by quoting melodies from The Waa-Mu Show and the university Alma Mater.

VI. The City of Lights
There is an image that is perhaps the most strikingly poignant visual that I have witnessed in the past four years, which has seared itself into my memory. When driving Southwest on Illinois I-55 just after crossing the Des Plains River, most signs of civilization disappear almost as far as they eye can see. At night, this portion of the drive is surrounded by complete darkness, with the resounding exception of an incredibly beautiful array of glistening lights situated to the East of the highway. The large complex of yellow and orange lights and illuminated pipes on the backdrop of hazy smoke and pitch darkness resembled a city, alive and filled with hope. I remember being transfixed at the sight through the window of the back seat. I later learned that this was an oil field – the juxtaposition of the industrial and gritty reality of the place during the day against the majesty of the sight at night only added to the striking nature of that memory.

With this final movement I hope to capture the hopeful yet uncertain feeling that I have towards my future after Northwestern, and all of the complex emotions that accompanied my fourth year.

Conductor
Joon Park

Flute
Jane Carpenter
Julia Clipper
Christine Kim
Nate Pham

Oboe
Jasper Igusa
Dallas Turner

Clarinet
Haley Kost
Victoria Lynn
Emily Manheimer
Jose Martinez
Theo Mavrakis
Jazmin Yuen

Bass Clarinet
Jintae Park

Bassoon
Katie Muñoz
Danielle Pindar

Saxophone
Leo Aguilar
Janos Csontos
Steven Liu
Aidan Manaligod
Karen Zhang

Trumpet
Joe Brozek
Jennifer Hepp
Sean Whitworth

Horn
Scott Beck
John Girotto
Ian Shaw
Helen Wargelin

Trombone
Kenton Campbell
Sean Holly
Aneesh Kumar
Lena Piazza-Leman

Euphonium
Matthew Kundler

Tuba
Sander Schierer

Bass
Haley De Boom

Percussion
Tarun Bellur
Austin Busch
Issac Frank
Thomas Wolff

Aurora Awakes – A Journey

Sometimes you have had a long week, perhaps a tiring day to cap it all off, and all you want to do is just come home, let all your worries go for an hour or two, and just do something that relaxes you. That’s exactly what I did this evening – come back home, throw down my backpack, and just put on some good old Aurora Awakes.

But this time, it was a little different. A few days ago, I’d learned to my great surprise that the full score of John Mackey’s Aurora Awakes had been added to the Northwestern music library’s collection! I had been wanting to see a paper copy of this score for quite a long time now and I immediately raced to the library to check it out. I hadn’t had the time to really open it up and dig into it until today, but man, am I glad that I went and got that score.

When I started the recording, I expected a few things as I often do when I listen to a piece with the score in front of me. I expected to find some things that I would never have noticed had I not been looking at the score, some things that I would not have expected to be notated as such, and some things that make me go “Ah, so that’s how you write that sound.” These are all reasons why I try to listen to my favorite wind ensemble scores with the score: it teaches me quite a lot. But this time, it was more than just the pockets on knowledge here and there. Aurora Awakes has always been one of those listening experiences that had a noticeable affect on me – sometimes calming me, sometimes exciting me, and sometimes instilling in me a sense of “man, I wish I could write like this.” This time, in a special way that I can’t quite describe, the listening experience was more of a journey than anything else. I felt like I was truly being enveloped by the music, and that I could begin to see glimpses of Mackey’s thoughts and intentions throughout the piece. Familiar melodies, motifs, and sections leaped out at me in a whole new light, and it was as if the score was speaking to me, saying “look at all these wonderful ways in which he has orchestrated us.”

I’ve never had a score listening experienced feel quite like that before. Perhaps it’s the relief after a long week, perhaps it’s because I just love this piece so damn much, I don’t really know. But it definitely felt special enough for me to have to sit down and write about it. I’m not sure if that’ll ever happen again, and that’s okay. Whatever the case, I’ll still keep on learning more and more every time I go through that piece. What I do know for sure is that these are the moments that make us say “this is why we do music.”

John Mackey, thank you for bringing this incredibly majestic work of art into the world. I wish I could write half as well as you do one day.

Recital of Gratitude

Wow.

Simply wow.

I still am still processing the fact that my recital just happened – not only happened, but the fact that so many of my friends, family, and mentors came out to listen to what I had prepared. It’s absolutely crazy to think that an undergrad could get a wind ensemble of almost 40 music majors together and rehearse/conduct them in a piece that he himself wrote. I still can’t quite believe that I was able to pull it off.

I’m no newcomer to setting a high bar for myself, but what an ambitious undertaking that was. And after the recital went as smoothly as it did, I am absolutely overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. I simply cannot express in words how thankful I am to so many people. I actually couldn’t go to sleep last night because of the blanket of feeling that comforted me, knowing that I have friends who support and care about me, parents who love me, and people who enjoy my work. I have never in my life felt such a tide of emotion – still high from the happiness of it all, so thankful, so glad.

A few people deserve some special thanks, so here they are:

First and foremost my parents, without whom I would not be able to attend this incredible institution of fine musicians. They flew all the way out from Ithaca to see my recital and set up the reception! I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their constant support.

To all of the players who played not only in the Landscapes ensemble but also in the Oboe Concerto – it was an honor and a privilege to work with you all. You guys are all amazing musicians and if someone told me musicians of this caliber would be playing my music just three years ago, I would not have believed them. I am so thankful that they were patient with my conducting as I learned on the podium, and thus I, in turn, was able to grow tremendously as a musician.

A million worlds of thanks to DaJuan B, who supported this crazy undertaking from the very beginning and taught me how to be a better conductor – without him I would not have been able to put the Landscapes ensemble together, nor rehearse them. Thank you for giving me the confidence to step onto that podium and believe that I could do this. You absolutely did not have to spend so much of your time and effort being at all the rehearsals, helping set up, and so much more, but you did anyway and it means the world to me.

Sarah K. – without you, the Oboe Concerto would not have happened. Thanks a million for putting together that ensemble. I probably would have lost my sanity if I had to put together both ensembles myself.

Thomas W. and Austin B. – We had a difficult time organizing the percussionists but you guys stepped up and put the section together, so thank you for that. Austin, thank you for helping prepare those parts and being so supportive!

Jasper I. – Thank you for championing my work! I’m so honored to have such a great oboist perform my concerto. You are such a positive delight to work with, and I hope to be able to again before I graduate.

John G. – Thanks for always keeping my mood up and for all those encouraging words. I was so glad to have you as a part of the ensemble and thanks for always being willing to help set!

Daniel C. for giving me many of the resources I need to put this recital together – thank you for being there, it means a lot that you would attend!

To all my brothers in Phi Mu Alpha that came out last night – you guys are all incredible peers that inspire me every day. It meant the world to me that you all supported my work.

Scott B. My friend and brother, who’s been there with me from day 1 of college… it is so fitting that you would be the cornerstone of my senior recital. It would have been a crime if I didn’t ask the one band geek that can match me for my wind ensemble geekdom to play for a wind ensemble piece I wrote. Without you, in so many ways, this piece would still just be an idea. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you’ve done for me.

And of course, all of my mentors along the way who have made me who I am today, especially my composition teacher Alex Mincek for supporting me in this undertaking even though he knew it would be an ambitious challenge, and my high school band director Nicki Zawel, who has always been an incredible inspiration in the world of music.

If you weren’t able to attend, you can find the recital recording below. Hope you enjoy!

First Rehearsal for Senior Recital – Check

Well… that happened.

It really is a privilege and an honor to be at Northwestern university, where an undergraduate composition student can decide to put on an wind ensemble piece on his senior recital and actually make it happen. It’s still a bit hard to believe – that I could stand in front of a group of incredible talented musicians and rehearse them through a piece of music I wrote. I’m just so incredibly thankful and I feel so fortunate to be supported by so many great friends.

The first rehearsal for my wind ensemble piece (to be performed at my senior recital next weekend) went pretty well. We were able to run through the entire piece (all six movements) in the first half, and was able to hit some trouble spots more specifically in the second half. Thanks to a conductor/teacher friend of mine who actually does this stuff for a living, I had some great conducting guidance. I learned a lot just today, not only about what I can actually do as a musician but also about the things I need to improve (being expressive while conducting mixed meter is hard!). On the composing side, I feel like I’m starting to get a much better grasp of what wind ensemble writing really is. This piece is by far the longest piece of music I’ve written (if you count all the movements together), and I feel like I have grown so much as a composer in the process.

And the best part… there’s still SO much more learning left to do! Two more rehearsals until the recital. Hope you’ll join us!

Quick Updates

A few very quick updates:

I finished my concerto for oboe and string quartet! It’s called Strangers, Shadows, and Desert Wanderers. It’ll be premiered at my upcoming senior recital. Speaking of which…

My senior recital date is confirmed! April 15, at 8:30pm. More details on that to come soon.

I’m officially the composer for Northwestern University’s Applause for a Cause for its 2017 feature length film. Applause for a Cause is Northwestern University’s only student run annual feature length film production, and I’m very excited to be composing for The Helsings this year. Applause for a Cause donates their proceeds to a charity each year, so I’m exciting to be composing for a good cause.

That’s it for now!

Fabiola Gianotti

For those of you who don’t know, Fabiola Gianotti is the current Director General of CERN, the largest particle physics research institution in the world. You may know CERN as the home to the Large Hadron Collider – the 27 km long particle accelerator that discovered the Higgs Boson.

As TIME seems to show, she is an incredibly respected person even outside of her field. So when I got the chance to speak to her, even for a brief moment, at the 2016 International Conference for High Energy Physics, I took it.

Of all things I could have expected, this was what I found out – she has a piano performance degree from the Milan Conservatory! She spoke of music always having been a huge part of her life and that she couldn’t see it being any other way. It was an incredible reassurance for me to hear her convictions on music and science coexisting in her life.

Film Scores

Thought I should give a quick update – as the school year wraps here at Northwestern, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to compose for two films this year. One, a Studio 22 Productions film called Lottery Lad! and the other, a feature length film called Trust (and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves to Sleep at Night). Both were composed with the assistance of good friend and guitarist Ethan Roubenoff, who was invaluable in the completion of both scores.

Trust was an especially formative experience to my film composing as it was my very first feature length film. The time crunch, the sheer amount of music I had to write, the recording of live musicians, the mixing and producing, and the list goes on… But all in all it was a fantastic learning experience, and a rewarding one at that.

Keep an eye out for more updates on both films in the near future!