STEP Reflection: A Suite for Orchestra

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Chad Sandlin

A Suite for Orchestra (STEP: Artistic and Creative Endeavors)

 

My love of music is incredibly deep; it has influenced all of the major decisions I’ve made in college.  In fact, it influenced the biggest decision I’ve ever made: to study Music Education and become a teacher.  How will I increase my understanding of music?  How will I increase my performance ability?  How will I utilize music to help others?  At times, the answer was to become a leader in an organization, and at other times the answer was to join an ensemble and learn from a great director.  When STEP came along, the answer was to intensively study the creation and organization of music itself.

I’ve always been interested in composing music – hearing and studying the greats like Beethoven, Mahler, Wagner, Stravinsky, Tchaikovksy, Rachmaninoff, and more made me curious as to how they created music.  I think that everyone has a musical voice inside of them, and if they access that voice they have great potential. I wanted to see if I had potential from the writing aspect of music.

My proposal read as follows: “I will utilize my funds to privately research the advanced field of music composition, theory, harmony, counterpoint, structure, genre, and anything else I can learn.  Once I gain sufficient knowledge on these subjects, I will write my own composition and perform it by the Spring Semester of 2016.”

I succeeded.  I took the summer of 2015 to study all of the great books on composing, to study all of the great scores, to listen to all the great records, and to write.  I had a regular schedule of reading and taking notes, and then one day about three weeks in, I was struck with a musical idea. I wrote it down, built upon it, molded it, varied it, and eventually I had the rough framework for a piece of music.  At first, I never intended to have it performed, but a wonderful friend of mine, Jonathan Rush, helps run a student-lead orchestra at OSU, and he offered to program whatever piece came out of this project.  So I took that framework and started assigning notes and rhythms to all of the instruments in an orchestra.  The editing process took months; much longer than it did just creating the music.  What followed is a twenty-minute, three-movement Suite for Orchestra (the title of the piece).  It was performed on Tuesday, April 26th, 2016 at the King Avenue United Methodist Church by the Buckeye Philharmonic Orchestra to a modest crowd and a very nervous me.  Additionally, the directors of the orchestra asked me to arrange OSU’s Alma Mater, “Carmen Ohio” for their orchestra, which I gladly did; this arrangement was performed last as the salute to a great year.

Although I was incredibly nervous for the concert, and although the performance didn’t go absolutely perfectly, I grew so much.  I set out to create a large piece of music (I had never actually performed or even finished a piece I wrote before) and the process was long and difficult, but I came out on top.  I know have the knowledge of a performed composer, which helps me relate even more to the music I’m studying/playing: I can now see the intent of a composer, I can more easily recognize the systems and organizations they use within their music, I can aurally distinguish a bevy of musical concepts that I could never distinguish before, and I now have the confidence (and respect from my peers) to continue writing – I wrote a thirteen-minute piece for a Saxophone Quartet which will be performed on my Solo Recital in just about a month’s time.

Because my study was private, there wasn’t an extensive amount of events or interactions that led me to the performance of my piece.  I took a lot from the composition writing of Schoenberg, Persichetti, Adler, and many more.  I studied the music of Ravel, Puccini, Copland, Shostakovich, and Bruckner most because I wanted to emulate their sounds.  In preparation for the project, I connected with several of my professors to gain their insight.  Most notably, I received assistance from my saxophone lesson teacher, Dr. Michael Torres, who provided me with a great deal of advice.  He provided me with support and guidance.  I spent a few nights sitting down the conductor of my piece, Jonathan Rush, to go through interpretive aspects of the music.  This solidified our friendship and gave me new ways to look at the music on the page.  I visited several of the Buckeye Philharmonic rehearsals to be a part of and advise the performance of my music.  Those experiences in particular taught me how important it was for a composer to be able to walk in the shoes of a performer.  How are they reading the notes on the page?  What language can I best use to describe my writing?  What emotion/feeling am I trying to communicate?  Is this music easy to play?  Is it fun to play?  I think that was one of the most profound takeaways from this project: perspective.  I gained the ability to remove myself from my egotistical bubble and viewed my music from another vantage point.

I was a wreck the day of the concert.  There was a point I stopped trying to personally invite people to the concert.  I didn’t want a ton of people there.  That piece was me bearing myself to the audience; it almost functioned as a window into my soul.  What if people don’t like what they see in there?  I was ridiculously apprehensive, but after the fact I was able to recognize the courage of those that create art and put it on a stage or in a frame or on a dance floor.  It’s difficult to create something and show it to the world.  I’m naturally very self-conscious about the way others think of me, so I’m amazed even more at those that can do it without worrying as much as I did.  I’ve learned from it though, and I’ve gained confidence in myself.  There’s a reason I wrote and will be performing another piece of mine: it’s thrilling to produce music.  New ideas being released into the air.  Even if no one enjoys it especially – the creation of something new is an incredibly special act.

My piece was the first of the program, and it was followed by several incredible pieces by some of the greatest Classical composers – Schumann, Berlioz, and Grieg.  I couldn’t match up to them.  Despite everything, however, I received positive reviews from everyone I spoke to after the concert.  “What inspired the music?”  “Will you keep writing?”  “I also loved Carmen!”  I wasn’t completely happy with the performance, but others were.  The support I received was vindicating.

The experiences I’ve gained from this STEP Project will stay with me for the rest of my career.  My understanding of music is at a much higher level now, and I’ll always be able to study it with a more advanced frame of mind.  I plan to write and arrange music for my students once I graduate at the end of this year and become a teacher.  I plan to write and arrange music for personal enjoyment and I hope to publish some of my music some day – or at least be performed again.  I’ve found my own particular style/sound that I really enjoy because, well, it comes from within.  All of music seems to have so much more character now.  It’s like I got my glasses adjusted and I can see much more clearly.  The effects will last a life time.

In the long run, I owe so many thanks to STEP.  Before, I was interested in composing, but never had the means to explore it.  Now, I write music regularly, and I’ve had the honor of performing several pieces that I’ve wrote.  STEP gave me the means to pursue a dream of mine.  These experiences will never leave me.

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One thought on “STEP Reflection: A Suite for Orchestra

  1. A very cool project and strong reflection on how this impacted your growth and development on a number of different scales. I’m glad it was able to inspire you to continuing composing. Thanks so much for sharing!

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