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Student Experiences in Musical Composition

| Kaitlyn Konrardy, Vocal Performance Major, Fine Arts Certificate, '23

The goal for any composer is to have their music played and heard by a large audience. And for composition students here at UW-Eau Claire, these aspirations are becoming a reality.

Dr. Chia-Yu Hsu, Associate Professor of Music-Composition at UWEC, states that “As a composer, the most exciting and meaningful moment is to hear your music performed live.” Hsu, being a composer herself, also recognizes how necessary it is for students to have this experience of writing for a live ensemble. In doing so, students discover first- hand what works and what doesn’t work when writing music.

Dr. John Stewart, Associate Professor of Music and Director of Concert Bands, shows his support towards these goals by making continual efforts to program original works by UWEC Composition Majors. Among the repertoire the UWEC Wind Symphony performed this year is Jack Ford’s “The Bird’s Flight” and Sam Lakkman’s “Entropy.”

Jack Ford is a BM-Music Composition Major from Edina, Minnesota whose interest in composition began at a very young age. At age 14 Jack was already composing pieces for his high school woodwind quintet group. “I think what makes my compositional style unique is the playful character in my writing,” says Jack. “A lot of my writing is very active in that there’s always something going on to glue the piece together–like in the third movement of The Bird’s Flight, one of the closing sections has an entrance/articulation on every eighth note to drive the momentum. Typically, I also try to involve and feature different parts of the ensemble as best I can.”

Sam Lakmann is a third-year Composition Major whose interests lay mostly within the classical and jazz genres. “I sort of blend both of those genres compositionally where I take jazz elements and I take a lot of contemporary/classical elements and I usually somehow combine them in the pieces that I write,” says Sam. He mentions that his style “is geared towards very rich harmonies and there’s an emphasis on reintroducing motives.”

The collaboration between Jack, Sam, and Dr. Stewart was born of necessity. In general, chamber music lacks pieces that feature the saxophone and euphonium. Although these two pieces were conceived through unconventional instrumentation, Stewart believes it is of a composer’s best interest to become familiar with the different ways a piece can be arranged. “Some of the most successful composers, in my mind, of the 21st century are the ones that are able to write in multiple mediums,” says the Wind Symphony conductor.

Equally important to learning the composition process is the practice of teaching your piece to an ensemble and providing personal insight to your work. While Wind Symphony was learning each of the young composer’s pieces, there were several instances throughout the semester where Dr. Stewart would invite Jack and Sam in to lead sectionals and even full-ensemble rehearsals.

“For me, I want them to know the skills so that if somebody were to call and ask them to write a piece for them they can, but if they also want the guest to come and workshop their piece that they feel comfortable standing in front of a group and talking about it,” says Stewart.

Jack and Sam are both incredibly thankful for the opportunities they've been afforded at UW-Eau Claire, and they are grateful that these invaluable experiences will lay the foundation for their future in music composition.