Miles Campbell: Young Composer’s Program
February 19, 2018
Reviewing a program that you've previously been in, let alone a public event that draws the community out to see it, is definitely a balancing act.
When you add that you're currently in college several counties away studying some of the very tools and subjects said program helped you develop, only now you're learning even more about them, it can seem like an uphill battle.
Thankfully, Music in the Mountains, which hosted its annual "New Songs for Midwinter" Sunday, Jan. 28, as part of its Young Composer's Program, was definitely more than accommodating in letting me, a former student, come and take notes on the program.
Taking place at Peace Lutheran Church, over a dozen newly composed pieces were debuted to an audience that filled virtually every pew and seat in the octagonal sanctuary.
For those who aren't aware, the Young Composer's Program is put on by Music in the Mountains every year to help educate local middle school, high school, and early college students about music theory, composition, public speaking and performance in both the actual playing of instruments as well as knowing what to expect from an audience and how to prepare oneself for such an event.
Each year they put on two concerts. Traditionally, one is written for a single instrument plus voice, the second either with a theme in mind or for a specific group that comes to the area, such as a string quartet.
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This concert was the first one. Usually, the pieces are pretty consistent for the most part in terms of their content — typically the students choose a poem from a well-known poet and set the words to music.
Piano is the most common accompaniment instrument, though other instruments such as harp or xylophone have been used.
"It's definitely exhausting, but very much worth it," said Silas Allen, one of the composers who selected Maya Angelou's "Life Doesn't Frighten Me" as the poem he worked with for the performance.
Others had similar sentiments.
"Everyone's being real diverse … ," said Evan Prescott, an advanced student, who said the experience of the Young Composer's Project "can't really be put into a single sentence."
Once the performances started, the before-hand descriptions slowly became more apparent.
"The pieces this year are all over the map," said local piano teacher Lynn Schugren, who performed accompaniment for five of the pieces, though she did admit that several pieces took inspiration from works by well known early 20th century poet Robert Frost. This fact ended up getting tossed around by the students enough that an initial idea for the name of the concert be "Mini Frostfest."
Although this didn't come into play, there was definitely a theme throughout a lot of the pieces, with the education coordinator Mark Vance even describing the environment of the concert in a Frost-like manner, "spring time, a beautiful blue sky … all things we like in California."
In total, 12 pieces were performed. Although I felt each piece breezed along with little effort in terms of the audience adjusting to the moods of the different pieces, there was a sense of individuality with each one.
"It's wonderful to see these various pieces," said Terry Brown, board president of Music in the Mountains. "I'm always impressed by the selection of poems."
Indeed, as one of the students put it, the "musical powerhouse of the area" put on yet another fantastic gala.
Miles Campbell is a Nevada County resident and was a student in the Young Composers program run by Music in the Mountains.
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