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HS composers of NorCal converge on UC Davis for Young Composers Workshop

Two weeks ago I, along with my friend and fellow Davis colleague Daniel Godsil, hosted the first UC Davis Young Composers Workshop, a two-week intensive designed as a safe, intimate environment of mentoring and music-making for young composers, all culminating in a concert of original works by the participants. We were grateful to feature guest composer David Taylor Gomes for a talk and guest pianist Sakurako Kanemitsu performing works by the young composers. The workshop was provided through the Youth Program at UC Davis, which offers summer camps for all variety of kids through the different departments at UCD. This year, for the first time, the Music Department offered a number of different camps, including ours, with the tireless ethnomusicology candidate Esther DeLozier coordinating camps for our department.


Daniel and I had a blast getting to know the music and personalities of these ambitious students, who ranged from ages 12-17. The activities included score study, masterclasses, presentations by us and the participants, speed-composing, improvisation, ear-training, and a guest speaker. Each morning began with a listening hour, which involved score study and group discussions about a variety of music, including Gustav Mahler, Claude Debussy, John Williams, Unsuk Chin, and John Cage. During the first week, we discussed and performed several open-instrumentation and improvisational scores together, such as Terry Riley's In C and Louis Andriessen's Worker's Union.

The young composers' diagram of John Williams' "Raider's March"

Daniel and I had the opportunity to discuss a variety of composerly topics with the students, such as writing for film, orchestrating, the overtone series, Pauline Oliveros' notion of "Deep Listening," collaborating with performers, and different ideas about the compositional process. We also took the students for a brief field trip around the campus during our Sound Walk - a half-hour walk through the UCD's campus in "silence," listening to the sounds in our environment and concluding with a discussion about what we heard.


The unifying thread of this camp was the composition project. During the first week, our composers were given the choice to write works for solo piano, piano and instrument, or a film score with projection. We provided 3 optional "prompts" or restrictions that they could begin with, if they so chose. At the beginning of the second week, the young composers presented their works-in-progress, and Daniel and I offered feedback in a masterclass-style setting.


Two features we both felt were important in this camp were an emphasis on listening, and on dialogue between the participants. To that end, we also asked the composers to participate in a "show-and-tell" of sorts. Each participant presented an original work, as well as a piece of music they enjoyed. This was one of my favorite parts of the workshop. In addition to getting to hear the tremendous variety of styles and aesthetics of these budding artists, we also got to hear music ranging from Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov, to Japanese fusion-violinist Taro Hakase, to music of video games, electronica, and more.


During the second week, we asked composer David Taylor Gomes to present on his music and his career. A performer by nature, his talk was both illuminating and inspiring. In addition to being a composer of musical theatre, David is also a pianist, singer, musical theatre director, and actor based in Sacramento. During his talk, he opened up about his own growth and development as an artist, the importance of sticking one's foot in the door, and not seeking validation from others. He also shared his experiences on his most recent production, Ranked, a successful new musical which addresses high-school burnout and cheating in schools, and has received national and international attention in light of the college admissions scandal.


On our last day, we presented our culminating concert of works featuring Sacramento-based pianist Sakurako Kanemitsu (who happens to be an Artist-in-Residence this year at UCD) as well as a few of our participants who performed with her, and somehow me playing the timpani. We were pleased to see a robust turnout which included family and friends of the young composers as well as several music faculty, staff, and graduate students who attended. The concert featured a film score, solo piano works, works for piano and instrument, as well as a piece for percussion duo.


At the risk of sounding overly confident, I think Daniel would agree that the camp was overall a success, thanks to the talent, curiosity, and ambition of our young composers who were a delight to work with. A camp like this was something Daniel and I both would have loved to have access to when we were teenagers, which I think was one of the things that inspired us to do it. We're hoping to offer the camp again next summer through the UCD Youth Program, so to those of you who are young composers or know a young composer, stay tuned!

© 2012-20 Ryan Suleiman

 

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