Composition Program

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New Pathways in Composition:
expanding on our classical foundation

The composition program at Calvin College is branching out, offering new practical and stylistic applications for compositional skills. Check out these exciting developments:

Song Writing and Sound Design

New courses geared to meet new market realities. We are in the process of reworking two of our “traditional” composition courses into courses on songwriting and sound design. Our first songwriting course is being run this fall, and in the first month, each student has finished one and a half songs in styles ranging from simple hard rock to Gotye to Bill Withers.

Film Scoring

This past year, the composition department began working with the Communications Arts and Sciences department to have student composers write scores for student film projects. CAS instructor Brian Fuller has emphasized that it’s great experience for film students to learn to communicate with live musicians to get music that truly fits their creative vision rather than relying on “canned” music from a production house. Here are the five projects our students collaborated on during the spring semester of 2012. (Three more are currently in-progress.)

  • Troy VanderHoek composed music for Decoys: a Duckumentory, which explores the world of handcrafted duck decoys, culminating in a national 2012 competition held in Cincinnati. 2012 Official selection for the Weyauwega International Film Festival and Columbia Gorge International Film Festival.
  • David Noa composed music for Bartertown Diner, a profile of a new vegetarian, vegan, and raw collectively-run and worker-owned diner in downtown Grand Rapids. 2012 Official Selection Chicago International Social Change Film Festival.
  • Logan Knoppers composed music for A Royal Pain a six-minute animation feature about a dragon who tries to prevent a mischievous princess from escaping. The Pain project is especially noteworthy because it involved so many of our music students experience in the recording studio: 15 vocalists, 13 string players, 8 brass players, 6 wind players, and two conductors. 2012 Official Selection Chicago Comedy Film Festival and Columbia Gorge International Film Festival.
  • Vivien Hwang composed music for Bradley Productions that follows the work and col-laborative philosophy of a group of wedding videographers.
  • Sean Mattson and Ben Bilgen composed music for God's Kitchen a documentary that presents two views of a restaurant for the homeless: we hear from the volunteers and the clientele.

Workshops by Internationally-known Crossover Musicians

This spring, our composition students had the opportunity to get training from and bump elbows with three musicians who not only span the “classical/popular” gap, but whose innovations are having a far-reaching influence on music today. Here, we owe special thanks to Student Activities Office director Ken Heffner, who runs a top-notch concert series, and is more than willing to share his guests.

  • February ‘12. Shara Worden (A.K.A My Brightest Diamond) is a multi-talented classical-ly-trained singer, composer, and orchestrator. Her music is insightful, allusive, socially-conscious, and often funny. It has connections to popular styles, but with rich harmonies, unpredictable melodies, and unusual instrumentation: drawing from an eclectic blend of orchestral instruments and world-music percussion. Ms. Worden ran a songwriting masterclass in the afternoon, and performed her own music with the Calvin Orchestra that evening.
  • March ‘12. Nathan Johnson of Cinematic Underground ran a songwriting masterclass, followed by a lecture-demonstration on his about his evolution as a film composer, and how it led to his work on the film Looper, due out this September. It’s a score that uses makes music from acoustic sounds that Johnson found near the warehouses and streets where Looper was filmed. His visit here ended with a concert by Faux Fix, a band Johnson started with his wife Katie Chastain.
  • April ‘12. Mina Choi founded the San Francisco-based Magik*Magik Orchestra, a group of arrangers, producers, and performers who make and record orchestral ar-rangements to complement the work of popular-style musicians such as John Vanderslice, The Dodos, and Deathcab for Cutie. Ms. Choi used her story about starting and running Magik*Magik to help students imagine possible applications of their com-position, arranging, and performing skills. We had the opportunity to hear her work when Deathcab gave a concert later that night.
  • September ‘12. During a workshop on songwriting and arranging, members of the band The Brilliance offered critique on the original work of several of our student composers. It ended up being a real confidence-booster, as each student received a far higher proportion of praise than suggestions for improvement. (Both praise and suggestions were quite specific.) After the session, John Arndt, one of the workshop leaders told me in private that the music presented in the workshop was better – had a clearer musical vision and more succinct musical ideas – than dozens of professional musicians he’s worked in the recording studio. David Gungor added, “I’d welcome any of these guys into the studio any day.”
  • November ‘12. New York based singer-songwriter (and Calvin Alumna) Rachel Zylstra will conduct a songwriting masterclass and give a concert with several of our string players.