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Roundup of a busy residence week!


I had a wonderful residence week back at the end of February! Here’s a roundup of my activities:

CUSO Rehearsals and “Music  of Destiny” Concert

CUSO performed three movements of my Mythology Symphony on their March 2nd concert. In preparation, I attended rehearsals on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. These led to a wonderful concert in Foellinger Great Hall in the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois. The acoustics in this Hall are truly spectacular!

Educational Outreach at the International Prep Academy

The CUSO brass quintet and I gave a joint education program for students at the International Prep Academy. As we have done with three schools earlier this year, we introduced the brass instruments to the children, as well as components of composing. Then we wrote a group piece about Nike, the Greek goddess of speed and victory, interspersed with the quintet performing movements of my Legends of Olympus. The students were most curious to see the brass instruments up close!


Presentations at St. Joseph Ogden High School

CUSO trumpeter Robin Heltsley invited me to talk with her music students at St. Joseph Ogden High School. For one class, I gave a presentation on how a composer composes, and in the other, I went over various business aspects of having a music career. I’m always excited to talk with high school students, as I was their age when I first discovered composing in a music theory course taught at my high school.

Introduction of the Mythology Symphony at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Maestro Stephen Alltop regularly talks at OLLI prior to each CUSO concert to introduce the upcoming program. He invited me to introduce the three movements of my Mythology Symphony at OLLI. We had a delightful audience, and I look forward to returning in early April to OLLI to give a presentation on how a composer composes music (for information on how to attend, please visit OLLI’s website).

Composing Workshop at the Cunningham Children’s Home

The staff at Cunningham Children’s Home chose several of their students to take part in a composing workshop. First, I talked about the components that go into building a piece of music and shared the video of Chanticleer singing my choral work Give Me Hunger (click here to view). Then, we constructed our own piece about the Greek goddess Nike. We designed the piece to perform ourselves. The students and staff explored various sounds we could make with our voices and hands. We performed our piece, realized where we needed to make some adjustments, and then performed it again. It was a great group activity that engaged the students and adults alike!

Piece composed by the participants in my workshop at the Cunningham Children’s Home.

CUSO Overture Reading Session

Last fall, we invited composers who live within a 200-mile radius to submit 3-minute overtures to us; we chose five works from all of the entries we received. On March 3rd, we gathered the five composers (listed in the picture’s caption below), CUSO musicians, Maestro Alltop, audience members, and myself at the Hilton Garden Inn. I introduced each composer to the audience with a short interview; then CUSO gave a first reading of the composer’s overture. This was followed by Maestro Alltop, the composer, and myself working to bring out various aspects of the music, as well as to problem-solve spots that needed some adjusting. We ended each composer’s session with another reading of their overture. Halfway through the event, we held a 15-minute question-and-answer session with the audience while the musicians took a brief break. After all five composers’ pieces were workshopped, the audience and orchestra cast their votes for their favorite works. Our two winners are Maya Benyas’ Fantasy House Overture and Roger Zare’s Strontium Red. Both winners received $500, and will have their pieces performed by CUSO on their April 2019 concert in Foellinger Great Hall.

From left to right: Stacy Garrop, Mark Rheaume, Maestro Stephen Alltop, Roger Zare, Maya Benyas, Zhaoyu Zhang, and Kyle Shaw.

In all, this was one of the busiest weeks of my residence. Each activity brought home to me how music can be meaningfully integrated in our lives in ways both big and small. I look forward to returning to Champaign-Urbana in early April to take part in CUSO’s Youth Concerts, in which we explore The Composer’s Toolbox.

See you around Champaign-Urbana!