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Concerts bring students and composers together

Concerts bring students and composers together

It's rare that student musicians — or any musicians, for that matter — get to rehearse with or play next to the composer of the piece they're performing. At Pittsburg State, it happens. 

Saturday's concert by the SEK Symphony Orchestra will feature two original works by composers Barbara York and John Ross. Both of them call McCray Hall on the Pittsburg State campus "home." 

York is the music department's staff pianist. 

Meanwhile, across the nation, musicians are recording CDs of York's songs and doctoral students are basing their theses on her compositions. Her score and lyrics for the Canadian musical Colette won a Dora Mavor Moore Award (Canada’s version of a Tony Award), she's been invited to present at world congresses and international symposiums, and she's received several commissions. 

Her composition, a seven-movement piece entitled "Spiral Road," is based on the seven poems she wrote years ago, each about one of the seven chakras. This year's symphony season is dedicated to female composers, so conductor Raul Munguia was excited to include it in the line-up. 

"They can't go and find a recording of this anywhere to listen to — they are performing this music for the very first time," he said of the orchestra. "That's both challenging and thrilling. And the audience will be able to say they heard a world-premier." 

Because York works with vocal music faculty Stella Hastings and Patrick Howle — both noted performers — she wrote it specifically for their voices. 

While the musicians have benefitted, York says she has, too. 

"I am at each rehearsal, which is rare for a composer, because I get to find out if the way I wrote it actually works for live musicians," she said. "I can tweak, make adjustments." 

The concert also will feature music theory and composition professor John Ross' fanfare Columbia, a work he wrote in 2003 in memory of the seven astronauts of the space shuttle Columbia who perished upon re-entering earth atmosphere. 

A respected composer, his music has been performed at forums, several university music schools, by many orchestras, and in France, and his awards are numerous 

"One of the good things about this is when you're working with the orchestra on a piece, and the composer is next to you – that's an immediate feedback that you get," Munguia said. "You can ask the composer...what would you like to hear? What parts of this section can be played louder or softerVery different than when you're working on a piece by Mozart – who do you ask?" 

The concert will start at 7:30 p.m. at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts. Admission for PSU students, faculty and staff is free of charge. 


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