GVSU student composers to give concert of original music

GVL / Luke Holmes - Jack Sligh held his recital in the Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.

GVL / Luke Holmes – Jack Sligh held his recital in the Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.

Anne Marie Smit

At Grand Valley State University, many music majors perform recitals with their instrument for their senior project. While these recitals give music students an opportunity to share their talent, a number of students compose their own pieces and have few chances to share them with others.

Recognizing this, GVSU senior Josh Doane organized the GVSU Composer Concert, which is scheduled for Friday, March 16, from 9 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. in the Haas Center for Performing Arts. The concert will feature the compositions of 14 GVSU students, with styles ranging from Contemporary to Neo-Baroque to Neo-Romantic. 

Doane is a performance major who has been composing his own music for six years. The primary reason he organized the event, he said, was that there are quite a few students who compose their own music who don’t have many opportunities to share it since GVSU doesn’t offer a composition major.

“A lot of people for their majors do senior recitals for their instrument, and that’s a required thing,” Doane said. “Over time, I learned that there are a lot of composers in the music program, and not all of them are necessarily in the composition studio. (So), at the end of last semester, I sort of got the idea to put together a concert of all the composers I know.”

Surprisingly, of the people Doane assembled to participate in the concert, only about half of them formally study music at GVSU; the other half compose music on their own for fun, like GVSU sophomore Annelise Trout.

Trout has been playing music since second grade when she began taking piano lessons, but she didn’t start composing her own music until three years ago when she began to use the program GarageBand, a computer music creation studio. After Doane told her about the composition concert he was thinking of putting on, Trout knew she would want to participate.

“It was a random opportunity that I stumbled into,” Trout said. “I’m taking piano lessons from Dr. Cho on campus. We had a piano recital, and I met Josh there, and we started talking about music composition, and he told me about a concert that he might be putting on. So, I said, ‘Oh, that would be cool. Let me know if you decide to do it.’”

Many people are intimidated by composition, Doane said, because they think they have to measure up to the great composers. But he believes many people could compose a piece of their own.

“Through my time and study, I wish more people felt like they were confident in composing because I feel like it’s a lot less complicated than what people make it out to be,” Doane said. “There’s an overall problem in classical music that when we study the history, we talk about these composers and we make their lives seem really grandiose, and it makes composition seem so out of reach. But I think anyone could compose if they wanted to.”

In addition to the music of the famous composers seeming unattainable, Doane thinks another reason people don’t compose music of their own is because the usual demographic doesn’t represent them.

“Back to the ‘famous composers’ problem, it kind of perpetuates the composer demographics within the modern classical community because we study all the great composers, and the great composers are white males,” Doane said. “It inspires a lot of white males to do composition and not other people. Fortunately, with the Composer Concert, I was able to try to incorporate more female composers. 

“That was kind of the limit I was able to take due to the demographic I had to work with in the music building, but I am proud to say that I did my best to make the concert (a) more inclusive experience for music students that compose.”

Doane’s compositions in the concert include a Romantic piece called “Fancy in the Stars Above” and “A Consideration of U.S. Foreign Relations,” which he refers to as a musical collage. Trout’s compositions featured in the program are “Ookaya,” modeled after a string orchestra concert, and “Stalker,” a more techno piece. Refreshments will be provided.