GVSU New Music Ensemble to host eighth annual Student Composer Competition

By Sidney Selvig | 2/19/17 10:15pm

GVL / Courtesy - Will Ryan Annual Student Composer Compeition
by Will Ryan and Will Ryan / The Lanthorn

What would life be like without music? Imagine it for a moment. No listening to music on the radio on a long drive. No music to dance to. Many people do not realize it, but music has a bigger effect on their lives than they may think. 

The New Music Ensemble at Grand Valley State University, an undergraduate ensemble that promotes modern-day music through different events, will be facilitating the eighth annual Student Composer Competition for GVSU music students.

Student composers are asked to compose 60-second pieces that relate to a specific piece featured in the GVSU Art Gallery in the Performing Arts Center on the Allendale Campus. This year, the exhibition they’re asked to draw inspiration from is “Comfortably Numb,” created by GVSU Artist-in-Residence Nayda Collazo-Llorens.

Collazo-Llorens’ work is comprised of a vast series of clippings from magazines and other printed materials.

Founder and director of the New Music Ensemble, Will Ryan, said each year the winners of the competition seem to be the ones that capture the spirit of the artwork the best.

The New Music Ensemble will perform all the compositions in a free concert held Friday, March 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the GVSU Art Gallery in the Performing Arts Center. There will be judges that award first, second and third prize winners, as well as an audience favorite prize.

The composition is a requirement for all students in the composition studio, along with anyone taking Ryan’s class, “studying of music composition”.

All competition participants submit their pieces anonymously. Their work is then premiered by the ensemble in the gallery among the art that inspired the music. Since there are no names attached to the compositions, the 60-second pieces must contain impeccably notated scores and parts, along with clear directions so the ensemble can play it correctly.

“[The pieces are] only a minute long, so someone might think that they would be simple and easy to compose, but really, the time restriction makes the composing much more difficult,” said Niko Schroeder, last year’s first place and audience favorite winner. “How do you communicate a valuable and intriguing musical idea in just 60 seconds? It's really tough! I spend hours on each piece sketching, writing parts and then revising, and even after all that it often feels like the works are incomplete. 

"It's an interesting musical puzzle that is rewarding and educational to try to solve.”

The ensemble has hosted this competition since 2009 to engage beginning music composers and turn them into experienced music makers. The ensemble not only helps prepare students for careers that include contemporary music, but helps them to become exceptional supporters, educators and masters in this subject.

“Composing in response to a visual element is a long-standing tradition in music,” Ryan said. “This event gives our composers the opportunity to try the process and then hear a performance shortly after.”

Students who will be watching or participating will gain experience while having an opportunity to enjoy the benefits music has to offer.

“Three years ago, the composition competition was the first opportunity I had to have my music played by a real ensemble,” Schroeder said. “It's so gratifying to hear your music played by some of the best musicians the school has to offer.”

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