Arts & Culture / Mosaic / Music / November 2, 2011

Students’ love for composing loud and clear

Dulcet voices and salacious tones pour from the practice rooms of Knox’s Ford Center for the Fine Arts. Hidden away in these soundproof boxes, the composers of Knox College create works of auditory art. Who are these writers, and from what well do they draw their inspiration?

The beginnings

Sophomore Alex Burik focuses on guitar and voice, writing acoustic, folk and rock on his own, as well as classical minuets and nocturnes for music theory. He started guitar and composing a month before he turned 13 and has been doing so ever since. Burik said it was “a struggle at first … I learn all the time. The process just sort of becomes very natural and subconscious.”

Senior Edward Davis, member of the Knox College Choir (KCC), Chamber Singers and Nova Singers and self proclaimed “choral music nerd” started music before he began talking.

“I could sing before I could speak any words,” he said.

Both of Davis’ parents were musicians, his father a conductor, his mother an opera singer, so he had, “tons of influences,” which he said he has, ”molded slightly so it’s me.”

He started composing spring of his sophomore year with an Emily Dickenson poem. He thought, reading the text, “Wouldn’t this be cool … set to this at this moment.” After several months, he had the work complete and the piece was set in the program for KCC.

Senior Oliver Horton, bass player for Poets and Peasants and the Cherry Street Combo as well as a member of KCC, did not seriously start music until he got to Knox. He started with tap-dancing and moved on to taking piano and bass later in high school.

Drawing from the well

When asked where he drew his inspiration from, Burik pointed to his chest and said, “from within.” He focuses on people, places and mundane, everyday things.

Burik stressed the importance of not getting caught up in the idea of a good or bad song, but that he must be flexible and allow for unfinished projects to sit, which allows him to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and possibly influence future songs.

He said it, “starts with an idea and grows out of itself … It becomes less of a thinking thing and more of a feeling thing. [You’re] engaged in terms of the physical action of playing your instrument … engaged in the moment.”

Davis said he draws his inspiration from the text and goes from there.

“Sometimes my fingers are better composers than my theoretical knowledge,” Davis said.

He will often just plunk out chords, experimenting with the music.

He also finds insight through events in his life. This past year he wrote a tribute to his grandfather who passed away, which he called “Requiem Eternim.”

He also draws ideas from the choir itself. He wrote another Emily Dickenson piece on a nine-hour bus ride during KCC’s spring tour last year. Surrounded by his peers, he heard the basics first in his head, and then was able to hear the nuances he wanted and who to make it for by listening to the voices around him.

His big project right now is the composition of a six voice part mass for his Honors Project.

When writing for Cherry Street, Horton, like Davis, finds himself composing for the style of the musicians, and finds hearing them play the works he has created “very gratifying, really quick pleasure.”

Horton said it starts with an “idea of mine, focusing on something I really like.” From there, he will manipulate the song if he plans to write it for someone.

“It’s all about developing ideas,” Horton said.

Horton wrote a tribute for Poets and Peasants, dedicated to his grandmother who passed away. He commented on how different the setting was in terms of collaboration. And that it was “not so official ideas, but ideas that need to the be worked on … like a workshop.”

“Sometimes [I get] blocks, not saying composition is easy ‘cause it’s not; it’s hard,” he said.

Horton composes folk songs for guitar and vocals in private, and two of his jazz pieces for Cherry Street, “The Whack Shack” and “Abduction,” have been performed regularly.

“I always thought jazz was really hard to write, but it turns out I knew a lot more than I thought I did,” Horton said.

For his senior capstone project, along with a collection of jazz and voice compositions, he plans to write a jazz adaption of the theme from Pixar’s “UP.”

Beyond graduation

As a Biology and Chemistry double major, Burik did not say anything about going into composition as a career, but he asserted that he would always continue to play.

Davis is applying to six different grad schools, all highly competitive universities like Yale and Julliard, but he expressed little anxiety about getting in, as he plans to take a year off if he is denied acceptance.

As far as what he will do after graduation, Horton was not worried, content to do anything from waiter jobs to going back to school to learn sound engineering, which he finds appealing because of money and a chance to offer his talents.

“I need some time off first,” Horton said. He plans to take a year off, probably travel to Guatemala. “[I’ve] got my eyes set on picking up drumming to work on rhythm.”

He ended by speaking of the hours he spends in the CFA, claiming, “Those are the hours people don’t realize music majors take … I’ve spent the hours and … I think it’s all worth it, and I’ll be composing for the rest of my life.”

Elizabeth Schult

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