Ithaca College Quarterly
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The Write Stuff

"It would be hard to go through here as an undergraduate music student," says Greg Woodward, M.M. ’78, "and not have touched the composition department --- either through giving a performance or attending a concert." For instance, he points out, student composers display their talents in the four annual composition premiere recitals, in which their works are performed by the composers themselves with their fellow students.

The composition department, under the direction of professors of composition Woodward and Dana Wilson, is continuing to evolve. Increased com-petition among prospective students from the United States and abroad has prompted some recent changes in the auditioning process and in the curriculum.

In the past, students who were looking for acceptance into the composition program had to audition on a major instrument and submit musical scores for review. Now when students apply, they have a personal interview with the composition faculty in addition to submitting scores. "We used to just get scores in the mail," says Woodward. "But now we get a chance to meet with the student and do a ‘mini-lesson’ and an interview."

Both Woodward and Wilson find the admission change beneficial. "Interviewing gives Greg and me a better chance to assess their talents beyond what we see in the scores," says Wilson. "We can determine what insights the prospective student has, what their goals are, and whether they would be a good match for the program. It makes a big difference when there is a large group of scores showing similar ability."

Compositionally Inspirational

The composition department sponsors several events and competitions that help to encourage the work of the young composers.

Wilson, Husa, WoodwardThe annual festival, known as Voices of Our Time, encompasses the annual Heckscher Composition Prize, funded through the Heckscher Foundation, and the first of three visits by the Karel Husa Visiting Professor of Composition. The Heckscher competition awards a $4,000 prize to the composer of a new work for a particular instrument or chamber ensemble. Past winners have been for solo voice, string quartets, or chamber orchestra. The competition is open to any composer (except for Ithaca College faculty and staff) and is international in scope. A concert featuring the winning work and the works of the Husa professor is the highlight of the festival.

Established 14 years ago, the Husa visiting professorship supports three visits to campus per year by top composers, who give private lessons to composition students and present performances of their music by IC faculty and students. "If you were to create a list of the top 15 composers in America right now," according to Woodward, "at least two-thirds of those people have been Husa visiting professors here." Past visiting professors include John Corigliano, George Crumb, Michael Daugherty, John Harbison, Karel Husa --- for whom the professorship is named and who will return as next year’s honoree --- and Libby Larson.

"As a result of the Husa visiting professorship and the Heckscher prize," says Woodward, "a majority of our faculty are getting more involved in performances [of new music]." Their students are equally interested. "[The] whole dichotomy of new music versus traditional music has really changed," explains Woodward. "There is no longer a sense of animosity between the two camps. I teach Twentieth-Century Music Theory, and years ago it used to be a circus when we came to new music. Now the students look at twentieth-century music as another style of composition."

The School of Music also sponsors band and choral composition competitions. The Walter Beeler Memorial Composition Prize was designed to encourage the composition and performance of high-quality wind band literature, in memory of Ithaca College’s renowned director of bands. The annual Choral Composition Festival, cosponsored by the Theodore Presser Company, features six new choral compositions, performed by regional high school choirs, and a commissioned work for the Ithaca College Choir.

In addition to these international festivals and competitions, there is a competition just for IC composition majors. Since 1989 the composition faculty has presented the Louis Smadbeck Composition Award. This prize was established by the late Louis Smadbeck, parent of David ’76 and Paul ’78, M.M. ’82, to honor the best new musical work written each year by a student.

The composition department numbers among its recent graduates a Fulbright scholar and students in top-rated graduate composition programs, including those at UCLA, University of Chicago, University of Cincinnati College Conservatory, New England Conservatory, and the Eastman School of Music. end

Photo by Art-Science Studio-Lab