Composer David Lang visits campus, teaches students

GVL/Bo Anderson

Pulitzer Prize winning composer David Lang speaks to a class on during his visit to GVSU this week.

GVL/Bo Anderson Pulitzer Prize winning composer David Lang speaks to a class on during his visit to GVSU this week.

Shelby Pendowski

When composer David Lang visited Grand Valley State University, he asked a group of viewers waiting to watch a screening of the independent film he composed, “Untitled,” what the difference between art and entertainment was. His response, “Entertainment never posed a problem it couldn’t solve.”

On Nov. 12, the So Very Series film series screened “Untitled” in the GVSU Performing Arts Center’s Sherman Van Solkema Recital Hall with a special performance by Lang.

“A performance of one short piece by Lang will precede the film (and) lend/lease for piccolo and percussion,” said William Ryan, GVSU music professor.

But seeing Lang perform wasn’t the only thrill for students in attendance.

Ashley Stanley performed at the beginning of the event, and said playing before Lang was exciting because “he is the founding father of contemporary music and that is what I am looking to go into.”

The students opened the screening and event with a performance that Stanley said is different. “This piece is interesting because it doesn’t involve too many instruments,” Stanley said.

That wasn’t the only opportunity students had while Lang visited GVSU’s campus this week – they performed some of Lang’s work in a Nov. 13 performance.

“This particular piece, we have put in 20-30 hours together plus learning individual parts, so about 40 hours,” Stanley said.

Following the screening’s performance, Lang gave a brief introduction about his involvement with the film and his composition. He said he received a call from the director of “Untitled,” who explained the plot line for the film and then asked Lang to compose the music for it.

He said he responded to the director by saying, “I am not going to be a part of this film if you are going to make fun of composers.”

Lang said it was important that the film expressed a true musician and composer.

“David has many different compositions used throughout the film,” Ryan said. “Some were composed specifically for the film, other music already existed and were edited to fit.”

Lang wrote all of the music in the film, even the “bad” music in the beginning of the character’s career.

“I don’t like that the character had to have a weird emotional attachment in order to compose,” Lang said. “I hate that you have to suffer in order to compose, I don’t want to suffer.”

Lang watched the film with the audience, and afterward answered questions, during which he gave away a raffle prize.

The winner won a bucket signed by Lang, similar to the bucket that the film’s main character used.

The film ended with the musical composition “Stick Figure,” and the audience sat until the end of the credits to listen to the piece.

“David Lang’s music is brilliant,” Ryan said. “It’s constantly exploring, testing. It can be gritty and grating one moment, and then intimate and quite beautiful the next.”

Lang is proud of the film and said a lot of time went into the production of it. He said it’s appeared in many independent film festivals and is even now on Netflix. “I love the ending…because it is about the art and music world,” Lang said. “Music gets to win at the end.”

Ryan said he started the off-beat film festival, So Very Serious, as a dream of his. Future showings include “Die Hard” on Dec. 9, which features a holiday mix preceding the film.

For more information about the series, contact Ryan at [email protected].
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