November 8, 2007

Roll Over, Beethoven; Student Composers Rock Out

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Never mind the Beethoven, here’s the Contrapunkt!.
Tuesday night at Barnes Hall, six undergraduate composers premiered brand new compositions at the first ever Contrapunkt! concert.
“Contrapunkt! is an alliance between people who love writing music and those who love playing music,” Co-President Julia Adolphe ’10 said.
On Tuesday night, the blend of styles, sounds and influences meshed together like the colors of a Pollock: diverse and complimentary. In fact, the word contrapunkt means counter-point in German — indeed, the wide spectrum of talents and songs that were showcased formed an assorted and exciting program.
Still, Adoplhe said that she liked the name because it could be “a punk rock band or something.”
The pieces performed were connected by common instrumentation — each featured different combinations of cello, violin, piano and choral vocals, with one solo acoustic guitar number. Although all the compositions could generally be considered “chamber music,” pinning down an exact genre is “something we’ve had a hard time doing,” Adolphe said.
Adolphe started the Contrapunkt! club along with Xander Snyder ’09 this semester. The group is a forum for those who love to play, perform and write music to give and receive advice, she said. Tuesday evening marked the club’s first show.
Murat Keyder ’08 strummed his fleeting “Wanderings” on guitar, while Ehren Brenner’s ’09 untitled piano piece staggered in an eerie waltz, and Dara Taylor’s ’09 “Let’s Not Think” soared with a seven-person chorus.
Despite some kinks that come hand in hand with fresh composers and performers — the occasional flat note, the dissonance — every piece was impressive: professional and without pretense.
Brenner spoke about the cooperative and supportive attributes of the group.
“The most important thing the club does for me is puts me in an environment where I can talk to other people really dedicated to composing,” he said. “It pushes me to compose more often and more seriously.”
Brenner went from writing one bar of music every 20 minutes this summer to completing his untitled piano piece within this past semester.
As with Brenner, the group encourages undergraduates to compose. It also gives other musicians an opportunity to perform.
Not only did Keyder, a math major, perform his original piece, but students like Jonathan Bautista ’09, who studies conducting, were able to perform in a non-academic — but still professional — setting.
Although DAZE columnist Maurice Chammah ’10 studies a broad range of music — from Western Pop to Middle Eastern to Classical — and regularly sings and plays guitar in a rock band, he was able to perform violin in two of the chamber pieces and also see one of his original compositions performed on Tuesday night.
“I wanted to experiment with unorthodox instrumentations,” he said. “Four singers and two strings is not common. [I tried to] mix together what I knew how to write with what was new for me.”
The mood of Chammah’s “Six Girls on Stage” cut back and forth like the tremolo rhythm Isabelle Cutting ’10 sawed on her cello during the number. The song was exciting and hard to place.
“I just tried to construct something I found interesting,” Chammah said. “I tried to make unique moments that weren’t easily put into emotional categories like ‘sad’ and ‘happy.’ That said, I didn’t try to overanalyze as I went.”
Chammah’s piece exemplified emotional blur, which mirrored the blurred boundaries between styles and genres heard from the featured composers.
“There are very different influences and aesthetic tastes within the group,” Brenner said. “Being in such a diverse group of composers is obviously a great benefit to each member of the group.”
This cross-pollination — the refraction of ideas — is certainly a benefit of what Adolphe calls “an alliance between people who love writing music and those who love playing music”: ideas bounce back and forth and all members profit from the exchange.
While the bi-weekly meetings serve as a safety net of sorts for improvement, in a concert setting, the outcome no longer is in the composer’s hands.
“You spend hours writing out every note, and you organize rehearsals and coach the musicians and deal with a million emails and logistics,” Chammah said. “And then, in the most important moment, you’re sitting in the audience without any control.”