From minds, to scores, to the stage

Muhlenberg College performs student compositions

For student musicians to perform student compositions, to allow for such an opportunity to experience and witness, is quite a feat in itself. Pieces ranging from folk-pop genres to smooth-Jazz quartets, neoclassical pieces that intend to emulate their predecessors to post-modern pieces that encourage the crowd to think beyond the performance before them—such genres and more were presented and performed for our ears to consume and process.

Certain pieces that caught my attention was a song cycle of three by Max Kasler ‘20 and Gwen Wilkie ‘20. The Cycle included “Free to Be Me,” “Home,” and “Unapologetically Me.”

“Gwen and Max gave me some creative control as far as coming up with my part,” described Ben Dawn-Cross ‘20, a drummer in the song cycle as well as other pieces throughout the concert’s repertoire.

“We’d all worked together in the same capacity during the Fundraiser Cabaret a few weeks ago, so it wasn’t a huge shift,” said Dawn-Cross. “Maybe because it was a student piece; that gave me much more liberty to interpret the song than if I was playing something in Wind Ensemble, where I have to play every note at exactly the right time.”

The pieces themselves varied in genre, some emphasizing vocal prowess while others emulated J. S. Bach variations. Counterpoint, a method of composition, was used in the piano piece by Dov Foger ‘18. For those who don’t know, counterpoint is a composition technique that applies to how two melodies interact with each other. For instance, in various Bach inventions, such as his first in C Major, each “voice” part (the melody presented) is equal.  Here, there is no “main melody,” but rather an invention of the same one throughout the piece, varied and changed every time it is repeated.

“I performed a short piano composition that I worked on this semester,” Foger said. He had performed the piece himself on stage. “The initial ideas for the piece, to me, resembled elements of early counterpoint, and so I let the composition naturally develop with that style in mind. I didn’t intend to strictly emulate 17th century practices, simply because I did not need to, and so I allowed my contemporary bias to influence the piece.”

Foger did an amazing job emulating this practice (intentional or not), and his performance of said technique was just as remarkable.

Returning to the song cycle, I was able to ask on one of the composer’s thoughts regarding the piece as a whole:

“My compositions consisted of three songs from a Song Cycle I’m writing with Gwen Wilkie ’20 called Woven Stories,” said Max Kasler ‘20. “These songs were written for voice, piano, bass guitar and drum set. The Song Cycle deals with themes of love and how our human stories and experiences connect us all in the funny game we call life.”

Kasler thought of the experience of the concert itself was unusual in itself.

“It is so surreal seeing our compositions performed live! For the past four months, we’ve been locked in practice rooms plunking away at the out of tune pianos only dreaming about what a finished product could look like and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier!”

Honestly, seeing the piece in myself, it was an out-of-mind and out-of-body feeling. Kasler’s music reflected on one’s identity, whether it be the singer, the composer, the instrumentalist, or even the audience themselves. The performance was engaging in nature and was truly worth seeing.

Performers and composers, vocalists and instrumentalists, faculty and students, all come together for a performance of rare opportunity — it was amazing to be in the audience of such a spectacle

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