By Daniel Johanson
There are a wide variety of roles that musicians can fill during the process of performance. Musicians that write music, even in a theatrical or mainstream sense, are referred to as composers. Most music departments offer the opportunity for students who wish to be involved in these endeavors to hone their craft.
At the Chicago College of Performing Arts, Roosevelt University offers a fully functioning composition department that premieres works twice a semester. This semester, the first performance occurred last Wednesday.
Although a standalone performance, this event also promotes a much larger discussion — what really goes into the process of creating a piece of art out of nothing.
“For me, when writing a new piece, a lot of pre-composition, sketches and set-up work goes into it,” said Jonathan Hannau, a graduate composition student involved in the performance. “When I have all my ideas and formal plans laid out, I can then go about composing the piece. While composing, I think about the development of my ideas and the timbres that I want to play with and can use the sketches as a guide to think of good ways to utilize the developmental ideas.”
Hannau’s piece was written for solo violin and was his first attempt at a work for that medium. He said he was fortunate to have his brother, Matthew Hannau, in attendance to perform the work for the first time.
The role of the composer is one that is thoroughly involved in every step of the preparation process. After the inception and development, the composer is then expected to organize and prepare for the performance through rehearsals.
“Scheduling, as usual, has been the main obstacle in rehearsing the material,” said Wil Padera, a sophomore who also had the opportunity to see his work performed. “Around this time of year, everyone has recitals and exams that they’re worrying about, so getting everyone in a room together is extremely problematic, especially when considering the difficulty of a work and the limited time we have to complete a piece, find our performers, schedule rehearsals between everyone’s time, make sure they have time to practice and then work out all the kinks.”
Padera added that the major is very business-oriented, and production is valued as much as presentation.
The program here at the university strives for the artists that it produces to have these ideals instilled in them. It is the professor’s first-hand experience in the field that really molds the way the department is structured.
“We try to help students to bring out their musical ideas to the paper more clearly,” Composition Professor Kyong Mee Choi said. “We also emphasize the importance of experiencing the entire process: composing, networking with performers, rehearsing, presenting at the concert, revising and publishing.”
Choi is no stranger to this field. Earlier this month, she was able to see the premiere of one of her works by the prestigious Chicago-based Lincoln Trio in Ganz Hall. Another big part of Choi’s responsibilities at CCPA is to be a guide for students’ inspirations.
“Creating something from nothing is such an interesting and challenging task,” Choi said. “In order to be a successful composer, you need to know how to balance critical assets: original voice, techniques to bring your ideas, good communication skills, actively promoting your music and, above all, passion for what you do.”
What has held true for the entirety of music’s history is that the art has flourished while these skills were developed. Composers who are remembered are aware of their predecessors. The concept that runs parallel with this idea is the ability to evolve the forms and preexisting material.
“Some people might not understand the importance of new music, but art wouldn’t survive if no one creates,” Choi said.
The Composition Department’s second recital for the semester is on April 16 at 7:30 p.m. in Ganz Hall.