When senior Jordan Degerness sits down to compose a piece of music, he has a lot to consider. When creating music, he prefers to use composition notebooks instead of music writing software. When looking for a place to focus, he’d rather write in a big room than in a small, confined space — so he might check to see if a classroom in the Hvidsten Hall of Music has been left unlocked. After that, it gets a little more complicated.
He has to think about the genre of music he is writing and how it is characterized. He has to think about the sort of instruments that will compliment that style and how many instruments should play at all. Then, he has to think about whether the instruments can play the part he has written and if he has given them enough time to breathe.
Degerness will premier one of his compositions at the third Student Blockbuster Recital at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 in the Christiansen Recital Hall.
The Student Blockbuster Recital series is planned by a student committee and features a variety of student musicians three times per semester.
“It’s a great opportunity — for younger composers especially — to have the experience of rehearsing something they’ve written with performers … finding out what works, what doesn’t work, what may need to be changed before it’s put up on stage, and then, finally, you know, experiencing one of your brain-children come to life because that’s a really cool feeling,” Degerness said.
The upcoming Student Blockbuster Recital’s theme is minimalism. The minimalist music genre is characterized by repetition and slow harmonic changes.
“In minimalist music you start to hear the musical ideas slowly transform,” Degerness said.
Entitled “Almalgamation,” Degerness’s piece will feature a percussion sextet, with players on the marimba, vibraphone and other accessories such as triangle, shekere, and hi-hat. He said choosing the instruments for any given piece is a matter of personal taste.
“You can think about what you really like, certain instruments together — which instruments together you didn’t like, maybe combinations you haven’t heard yet that you want to experiment with,” Degerness said. “So it’s sort of like cooking like that, where you have to experiment with different flavors to find the one that you really like best.”
Degerness also had to experiment with titles before finding one that he thought suited his piece. Amalgamation means to merge or combine, which Degerness said is reflected in the way different musical elements come together in his composition.
After completing the piece this fall, he invited Danny Kocher, Kira Graber, Andrew Johnson, Adam Kolling, Kasey Stevens and Kristina Haataja to perform it at one of the recitals.
Kocher, a junior, plays marimba for “Amalgamation” and said that the song reminds him of cell division.
“It starts out very simple with just one thing going on then changes really, really slightly with one rhythm or one note,” Kocher said. “By the end you get a totally different thing than what you start out with.”
Kocher has performed in other on-campus recitals, however he calls this opportunity his “first totally homegrown experience” because students have facilitated every aspect of his performance; a student committee planned the recital, a student composed the piece and other Concordia students are playing along with him.
The Student Blockbuster Recital series aims to feature student composers as often as possible.
Senior Brianna Drevlow premiered a composition at the first recital earlier this fall. A band she heard performing at a jungle-themed jazz club in New York City inspired her piece called “Colored Sketches.” It featured Cole Bartels on trombone, Degerness on percussion, and Drevlow herself on piano.
Drevlow said that there is not a lot of repertoire featuring those three instruments together, so she had to think about the colors and effects each instrument could produce. She wanted to feature the trombone and percussion as “muted, soft, gentle, and flowing.”
“When I write music, I’m very focused on color and gesture, which are two big words I always use,” Drevlow said. “Color, just meaning ‘what does the music sound like? What kind of effects does it bring out?’ and gesture is ‘what kind of shapes does the music bring out?’ so I almost think of it like painting with music.”
Drevlow is grateful that Concordia provides opportunities for student composers to share their work.
“As a composer you’re constantly hearing your work all of the time in your head and you get sick of it after a while…but then to hear live musicians bring their own interpretations and their own strengths and bring it into a piece like that—it’s really amazing because you begin to hear things about your piece that you didn’t pick up on before,” Drevlow said.