Music students find success through composing


Senior Katie Dean performed an original composition on the flute during her senior recital on Feb. 3. Photo by Zoe Seiler/The Simpsonian

by Belle Ward, Features Editor

Senior music recitals can be nerve racking, as they are a final hurdle in the process of graduation. Writing an original piece for this performance can be even more daunting.

Senior religion major Katie Dean experienced this first hand, as she wrote a song of her own for her recital.

“I did four pieces including mine, and I have been working on them for at least a year, if not longer,” Dean said.

Dean structured her senior recital with the help of her instructor, flute teaching artist Kim Helton.

“We were talking about what else it could be, and she just kind of threw it out there as a kind of a joke, ‘Oh, you could write your own piece,’ and I was like ‘Okay.’ She didn’t realize I was serious,” Dean said.

Dean began to write her own piece after being encouraged by Helton.

“I started at the beginning of last semester, and I didn’t really finish it until a week before my recital,” Dean said.

Dean said that although she is a perfectionist, she had to make the decision to accept her work as it was. Writing her own piece came with a sense of ease.

“You walk in there and you can just play whatever until something comes to mind. You just keep going with it,” Dean said. “And it doesn’t really feel like a chore, it doesn’t feel like something that has to be exact. Because it’s yours, and it can be whatever you want it to be.”

Dean performed her original piece without piano accompaniment, instead allowing for a non-traditional addition.

“At the beginning of the first semester, we had a guest flutist come and play, and she performed a song called “I Will Not Be Sad in This World” which was the original inspiration for this song,” Dean said.

Guest performer Lisa Bost included vocal additions in the background of a piece she performed at Simpson, which inspired Dean to be creative with her own work by being accompanied with nature sounds.

“It starts with a thunderstorm that transitions to chirping birds, and then its silent during the flute cadenza, and then it returns and ends with the thunderstorm,” Dean said.

Dean has been playing the flute for 11 years. She puts a lot of consideration into the songs she chooses to play.

“To me, songs are a journey. Every song has a story to tell, so that’s how I process the music that I play,” Dean said.

Senior Zach Howarth enjoys composing his own music and plans to perform original music in his senior recital. Photo courtesy of Zach Howarth

Zach Howarth, senior music performance major in percussion, has been writing music regularly since his sophomore year.

“Cortez Daniel, who I was very close with, kind of pushed me a little sophomore year to actually show somebody what I’d been writing,” Howarth said.

After taking a composition class, Howarth gained the confidence to continue to write and share his work.

One of Dr. Patterson’s assignments for his composition class was to write 10 melodies a day.

“I couldn’t write more than two in four hours or so,” he said. “But a week came and I was writing 10 melodies in 10 minutes.”

Howarth’s jazz experience helped in deciding what kind of music to write.

“I would find a melody that I liked, and I could put something under it that I thought sounded good, until it clicked and I would record myself,” Howarth said.

Listening to his first songs now causes him to realize how far his skills have grown.

“I think they were developmental, which I think is probably the best part of it, because now I have learned from what I originally wrote, and now I can improve upon it,” Howarth said.

He has now written songs for voice, piano, a percussion ensemble and is currently writing music for his own senior recital.

Howarth finds inspiration from the music he is currently listening to, including his former roommate.

“I lived with Cortez for a year, so for a while it was just us bouncing ideas off each other,” he said. “And he would write a melody and I would say: ‘Hey, that’s really hip.’ And then I would write a melody, and he would say, ‘Hey, I like that.'”

Howarth’s skills have continued to increase as he takes more time to write and listen to music.

“I just listened to a piece we’re doing for orchestra, a symphonic suite, and it’s insane. As soon as I heard the first and third movements, I had five melodies that I thought of instantly,” Howarth said.

He enjoys the ability to arrange his music on his computer and hear everything fit into place.

“Or, better yet, recording yourself,” he said. “Because I’ll do that when I have a new piece of music, I’ll go play it. And when you hear it back and it sounds just like or better than you imagined, I think that’s probably the most rewarding part.”

Howarth plans to attend graduate school in the fall to receive a master’s degree in jazz studies in order to teach.