There are few people who graduate college with a degree in the arts who can say that they have worked exclusively in their chosen field and been able to sustain themselves. Composer and Associate in Applied Music Daniel Godsil, however, is one of those who can.
If you have been on campus at all this past year, chances are you have heard Godsil’s name. His most recent accomplishment was the world premiere of his newest choral piece, “Youth and Pioneers: An Ode,” performed by the Knox College Choir (KCC) at President Teresa Amott’s installation two weeks ago. Taking Godsil over five months to complete, he called the composition “the hardest piece I’ve ever written.”
“It’s a pretty long work … it’s hard to write something a capella that’s going to take up that much time and not have the piano or accompanying instruments … to fall back on.”
The piece, which was commissioned by the college to be sung by the KCC, is based on Sandburg’s speech of the same name, given at the rededication to Old Main at Knox in 1937. The challenge for Godsil was taking the poetic sections of the speech and setting them to a choral texture.
“It was almost fighting against me trying to come up with a singable text out of it. It wasn’t intended to be a poem,” he said. “Thankfully, because it was Sandburg, he actually had poetic inflections in there already.”
In addition to composing for the KCC and directing the Knox College Chamber Ensemble, Godsil has also written pieces for the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, Nova Singers, and numerous other established ensembles outside of Knox.
With the help of Professor of Music and Founder of Nova Singers Laura Lane, Alliance Music recently published one of his pieces, performed by the Nova Singers last year.
While Godsil is known at Knox for composing and directing ensembles, when he is not doing these things, he is likely behind the wall of computers in his studio making his living as a film composer. In contrast with his choral and orchestral compositions, he often does not need an ensemble at all for film scoring. Instead, using high-quality samples, heavy-duty software and a keyboard, Godsil has a virtual orchestra at his fingertips. When a score is recorded, he can simply send the files via email to the directors. He calls the process “composing for samples” rather than composing for performers.
“I don’t want to trick people into [hearing] a real orchestra; I want to get the best possible sample I can get and then write for them,” he said. “I’m not really writing for real performers; I’m writing for recordings of real performers. It’s a subtle difference.”
Through film composing, Godsil has been able to establish an impressive resume, as well as learn some valuable lessons.
“It was a really good experience. … I found out really quickly that I need to write and rewrite,” he said, “because nine times out of ten it is going to be rejected [by the director].”
Godsil also pointed out that his interactions with film directors taught him how to speak about and understand music in layman’s terms. He spoke of an early experience in which a director asked for music that was “plunky.”
“It’s just a very isolated example of several where I had no idea what they wanted,” he said, “so it was just lots of experimentation.”
Godsil, while a Galesburg native and a current resident, has traveled to many places before returning to his hometown. After attending college, he lived everywhere from Vienna, Los Angeles, Chicago and Nashville. However, throughout his travels, Godsil has always been able to sustain himself through some music-related profession, whether it was working as a recording engineer, a music engraver or a composer.
As for the future, Godsil plans to keep up his chameleon-like musical career. While he hopes that his film scoring offers will grow in quality, his expectations are modest as long as he is able to keep doing what he loves.
“As long as I continue writing music in one form or another, I’m happy,” he said.