Beyond Beethoven: When Students and Composers Work Together

“I learned more about the human connection in the music, [to meet a living composer] and to see how much thought he put into the work and present it to the audience [was amazing].”

Ben Wang, Clarinet

Wind Symphony Concert

Our 2021 Winter Concerts series was full of dynamic performances, showcasing the efforts and perseverance of our Conservatory students who, despite the ever-changing conditions of the pandemic, showed up each Saturday since September to learn with our faculty and each other. One of the many highlights of the series was our Wind Symphony led by Chip Staley, performing “Havana“, a new composition by composer Kevin Day, who is currently earning his Doctoral of Musical Arts Degree in Composition at the University of Miami Frost School of Music.

Merit’s Wind Symphony performs Havana by Kevin Day at the annual Winter Concert series in December.

Unlike learning the great works of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and the like, performing the music of living composers offers unique opportunities. Our Wind Symphony students not only learned Kevin’s fantastic piece, but had the opportunity to meet him via Zoom, rehearse the piece for him, ask questions, and hear his vision for the composition directly from him. The opportunity to work with their ensemble, instructor, and the composer himself was a special experience for many of our Conservatory students. Living, breathing music is truly a beautiful thing.

Wind Symphony Student

Our Conservatory students were thrilled to have this unique experience to engage with their performance piece in real time. “Kevin is us. I can see myself in his position in a few years,” says saxophonist Cole Moorehead. “It’s awesome to see someone who’s in school and doing what, hopefully, I want to do in a few years and being successful. He’s doing so much stuff—like working with Merit. And he still plays videogames!”

“Although we wanted him here to shake his hand and interact with him [in person], it was still cool that we were able to talk to him,” shares Lucas Ruhe, a senior trumpet student in the Wind Symphony. In their rehearsal with Kevin, Wind Symphony musicians got feedback on not only the piece itself, but the “inside scoop” on what he really wanted to convey to the audience. Clarinetist Ben Wang notes that, “In the last chromatic scale of the credenza, there’s actually a misprint in the score. Kevin corrected us and told us to play it how we would instinctually, rather than what the music indicated. The audience probably could never tell the difference, but it was cool that we knew.”

“Musically, it’s a more lively piece. Kevin is not that much older than me either, and as a young person who plays classical music it was awesome to get into the mentality of someone else who is young, alive, and enjoys music for wind symphonies.”

Lucas Ruhe, Trumpet

Merit grows the next generation of musicians by partnerships with the very best new composers, like Kevin Day, which fosters an unparalleled experience in helping our students to see themselves not only as performers but as active participants in the creation of music itself. For Miles Macklin, first year Conservatory trumpet student, the tremendous value of this opportunity does not go unappreciated: “This was my first experience playing something written by a living person. This is all kind of new to me and I can’t take it for granted because not everyone gets this chance, especially people in our age group.”

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