New Music photo

Students rehearse for the New Music Initiative concert which will take place in Fletcher Recital Hall at 7:30 on Nov. 11.

East Carolina University’s School of Music (SoM) will hold its annual New Music Initiative concert on Nov. 11 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the A.J Fletcher recital hall at which students will collaborate together and perform original pieces by student composers.

Christopher Ulffers, the director of the SoM and professor of bassoon, said the New Music Initiative has been around for decades and is a good way to bring light to newer, more modern music that comes out. This concert serves as a world premiere of music that SoM students have written and it gives them a chance to have their compositions heard by an audience, Ulffers said.  

“My role as director is to allow faculty to do the great work that they do, and then to help them facilitate that great work,” Ulffers said. “The student performers and the student composers collaborate together, and it’s really important that our performers support our composers and vice versa.” 

The student composers and the student performers have been working for months on their compositions, Ulffers said. They will use brand new techniques and new ways to play their instruments that they have never used before, so it has taken a little longer than normal to prepare these pieces because they may have never performed these new techniques before, he said.

The New Music Initiative was founded by Ed Jacobs, who is a professor at the SoM and connects both the students and the audience with new, 21st century music. Ulffers said Concerts were extremely hard to put on last year because of COVID-19, so everyone is excited to be able to perform for a live audience.

“Come out and see our students play and hear our students perform and hear what our students have composed; these are really fine musicians, and we need to support them as much as we can,” Ulffers said.

Travis Alford, the director of the New Music Initiative and an assistant professor of music composition and theory at the SoM, said that the concert was created in order to bring in world class musicians who specialize in new music to the school. The program has two main branches: the guest artist residency program and the commissioning program.

During the guest artist residency program, new music musicians are able to spend time on campus, Alford said. They stay for a multi-day residency, which includes a concert of their own music, a reading section for pieces by ECU student composers and hold many kinds of master classes, he said. The commissioning program is a three-year cycle that allows students to find different composers to write a piece of music for the SoM and eventually come to the school and have that piece performed and recorded.

“The guest residency program helps the students because these are professionals working in the field that they want to go into, so they get to make contacts, they get lessons with these musicians and for composers, they get really good recordings of their pieces,” Alford said. 

The performance tomorrow is one of three premiere performances that happen this year and is solely music from ECU student composers, Alford said. Student composers, he said, will find a student performer and together they will rehearse and then eventually premier this piece of music. 

It is important for composers to get recordings of their pieces because they are able to work with the performers and have a good recording to add to their portfolio for future experiences, Alford said. The community benefits from these concerts because it opens up the audience’s minds to sounds they may have never heard before, and hear what living composers in America are working on, he said.

“I definitely hope that everyone attends, this is free and open to the public, it is a chance to show off our composers, a chance to show off our wonderful performers and a chance to stretch your ears,” Alford said. “Come in with no expectations of what the music should sound like and sit and see what our students have come up with.” 

Nathan Jasper, a junior vocal performance and composition double major, said the New Music Initiative was a way to bring in new music, both with contemporary and modern composers as well as student composers. He said when composers are writing music for their premiere performance, they can write it for an ensemble, three or four instruments, a duet or even a solo piece. 

It is very helpful for ECU music students when the commission composers perform their own written piece for the SoM and give master classes, Jasper said. These master classes, he said, are held for the composition students at which they show students how they use their instrument and how to work and play it in new ways and get insight from an outside perspective.

“You see your teachers all the time and so you are used to their perspective but, as a commissioned composer from the SoM, that’s an entirely new thing, and it’s a breath of fresh air really, that outside perspective,” Jasper said.

In order to prepare for these performances, every student has a different approach to how they want to prepare, Jasper said. There is no clear-cut way to go about preparation because the entire event is student run, and every person would have a different answer, besides just simply putting on the best show they can, he said.

When choosing a composer to come to the SoM, it’s a collective effort among the students; they all vote on their three favorites and the composer that was chosen is asked to come in for the New Music Initiative, Jasper said. This year Lei Liang was the composer that was chosen, and he performed on Oct. 23. His performance and time at ECU were supposed to happen last year but, because of COVID-19 it had to be moved back to this year.

“It (New Music Initiative) is a way to bring in new music, both with contemporary and modern composers as well as student composers,” Jasper said. “I think it’s amazing, everyone has the same clear-cut goal of giving the best performance you can.”

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