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Composition Students Find Home and Inspiration at Meadows, Share Successes - Part 2 of 2

Meadows composition students come from a variety of places with a plethora of experiences and write music for many reasons

By Katrina Leshan (B.M. Guitar '13)

Meadows student writer Katrina sat down with a collection of Meadows music composition majors and learned their stories.  The following is a collection of the six interviews.

Dan Lazarescou
Magen Miller
Thomas Schwan

An Interview with Dan Lazarescou (M.M. '10 in Music Composition)

Dan LazarescouDan Lazarescou has lived all over the world, but spent the last several years calling Meadows School of the Arts his home. He recently took the time to discuss what inspires him the most, both in his music and in his life.

Tell me about yourself and your history with music.
DL: I was born in Romania and was a computer engineer for more than 20 years. In 2000 I bought a piano for my children and soon realized that I played more than they did! So after taking private lessons I felt that I needed to take formal training because I was not going anywhere. The technique was fine, but I did not understand why I had to do all this. At that time, I started a new business, which gave me the schedule flexibility to start going to Richland College. Even though I had a Master's degree in science, I had to start from scratch taking English and government. And then I had an extraordinary theory professor, Dr. Wallace, who encouraged me to take composition also. That is how I realized I really like to compose even more than playing piano. So after two or three years at Richland I transferred to SMU with a scholarship. Initially I was just going to get a Bachelor’s, but after a one-year break I came back and just now finished my grad studies.

What were the first songs you wrote? What were they like?
DL: When I was a child I played piano, and I used to improvise a lot. Without knowing it I was doing the normal chord progression that you hear in pop songs or in Mozart – it was ii, V, I – but I did a lot of improvisations, so composing was not that much of a stranger to me. It was only when I started to learn theory and applying concepts from the theory that I realized how much more you can do if you have formal training than just improvising.

So when you write, what inspires you?
It has to start with something. I just wrote a piece for two dancers that is based on a sculpture in the Meadows Museum called Joie de Vivre. The two dancers, Shelby Stanley and Marielle Perrault, showed me how they wanted to dance, and this in addition to what I was already thinking generated a piece. It has sections with fast runs that open windows to different sections where the dancers can express themselves. This is the pattern for the song: fast runs and then places for expression. So coming back to your question, I believe composition has to start with a seed and then we must apply the things we learn in theory or counterpoint or harmony. What I found out is that making an error opens the doors to something you didn't imagine before. I welcome errors because that really lets you take in something you didn't originally think about from a logical point of view.

How do you define your music? Can you define your music?
DL: I cannot. I define it by what it is not. It is not atonal music. It is tonal music with direction. I'm trying to extend my style. In my recital they performed rock pieces, jazz pieces, art songs, and a violin concerto. This year I started to try new things besides classical music.

What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
DL: Well, I listened to rock. When I was in Romania you had to listen to illegal radio stations to hear the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, and there were shows geared towards young people. My eyes were opened by the political comments I always heard mixing with the music on the radio. The music was broadcast from West Germany, so you could listen to them but it was illegal to openly listen to them and talk about them. It was exciting because all my friends were listening to the same things.

Did that new music introduce you to new ideas you hadn't heard before?
Of course! (laughs) It was really good music! Compared to the communist things that were on the radio before that, it was so good! I could listen to Led Zeppelin on the radio and it was really cool.

What was music like in your family?
DL: My mother took me to the opera when it would come to the little town where I used to live. My father used to like to listen to classical music, especially when he was older. He bought LPs because there were not CDs then (laughs) and that is how I found my first loves, the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky No. 1. My mother allowed me to have private lessons, and then I went to a public school where there was music education. Then I became an engineer because I had a really good math teacher who corrupted us to be engineers... (laughs)

Do you feel that music and math are related?
DL: It has really helped me that I was a computer engineer for many years. When you program you have to think in advance how the computer will react. In the same way you have to think how the piece will turn out: for example, how will the different themes be? When you develop a program you know where you want to go. When you develop a theme, either you base it totally on inspiration or you have a plan, and I can tell you that Bach and Beethoven had plans to develop something.

What is music like in your family now?
DL: I succeeded with two of the three children. (laughs) One is taking voice lessons and the other enjoys playing piano; she plays without being asked! She enjoys playing by herself. This is what matters: playing music for yourself and enjoying it.

For more information on Dan Lazarescou, please visit:

An Interview with Magen Miller (B.M. '10 - Music Composition)

Magen MillerThough Magen Miller has had many experiences that could have prevented her from succeeding in life, she has remained resilient and focused on music as a way to learn, heal and grow. One afternoon Magen sat down to tell me what made the biggest impressions on her both within Meadows School of the Arts and in her personal life.

How did you first become interested in music?
I started violin when I was five, piano when I was seven. I never really practiced what I was supposed to, and a lot of teachers would quit on me because of that. I'm not classically trained on violin - I've only had two violin lessons in my life - but because I was classically trained in piano I was already able to read treble clef and teach myself. I came to SMU as a piano major, but decided that I didn't want to spend that much time alone in a practice room, so I became a composition major and here I am!

Tell me about your music. What inspires you?
I write for people. I would never be a composer who would sit by myself and write for myself or for math or any useless space factor. I'm inspired by people, and I love people, so all of my music is “somebody.” On my recital, my first piece was a fantasy I wrote for my friend Thiago Nascimento. He's entering the Van Cliburn in this next round! Anyways, I wrote this piece for him for two reasons: for technical difficulty, and because I know what kind of music he likes. I know what kind of music he loves to play and I know his style. The same goes for Jonathan Jones, whom I enjoy writing for. He is one of the best clarinet players in the world, and being able to write for him is pretty amazing.

So was music a big part of your family?
MM: Family's not really around. I grew up in foster care for most of my childhood. I house-hopped and stayed with my boyfriend, who was a musician, through high school. We were in junior high orchestra and high school orchestra together. That's what really got me into music. It was always kind of my vice, what I could do when I was angry. I could just go and practice. I played in the jazz band in high school, I played for the chorale, and I was the concertmaster in the orchestra on violin, so I thought I was “it” in high school. Then I came to college and thought, "Oh, look, a million of me!" (laughs) It's great, and I learned to stop having that competitive edge and to start working with people and collaborating instead of just pushing everyone away.

You mentioned writing for Jonathan Jones and Thiago Nascimento. Tell me some more about that.
MM: I'll write for anyone who is enthusiastic; I'd have to say my big four are Jonathan Jones, Jamal Mohamed, Thiago Nascimento, and Hubert Pralitz. I guess I'm just a very personal writer because I wouldn't have it any other way. It wouldn't be honest, it wouldn't be fair, it would be a waste of space and time.

How has your musicality and relationship with music developed since you came to SMU?
I studied with Dr. Hanlon and Dr. Frank. Dr. Hanlon helped me bring out my creative edge, and Dr. Frank has helped me print it off and get it through. I think that's a pretty great combo! (laughs) I've learned a lot about techniques; I don't think you really learn how to WRITE, I think you learn how to develop your idea. I think the ideas are inherent - you either have them or you don't. I've become rather efficient in writing my ideas down on paper, though there's tons of room for growth.

You had your senior composition recital this spring. What's the piece you were most excited about?
I love them all. The fantasy for Thiago was the first piece, and I wouldn't have had any other piece start it off. It's very virtuosic. Thiago is going through a lot right now, and I wrote this piece to give him something to really focus on. I wrote it in two days for him, because it just came to me. I think those are the purest thoughts that you can put down: the thoughts that just come to you. The ideas that you have to work over and over again probably weren't intended to happen in the first place... Anyways, my other favorite piece in my recital was Flux, the last piece. I wrote it last year and I wrote the clarinet part in a day. John Jones and I performed it that night after working together all day, and it was immaculate by that evening. I recorded it and put it on my website. Flux is a really personal piece; it's about where I was at the time. I go back to the Latin root of the word for the piece. It means “to flow.” I learned that my whole life I had been trying to plan things out, and I just don't do that well. There is no wrong or right or planning - if I put it down that is how it's meant to be. Everything is really personal for me as a composer; it's how I express myself. The only time I'm really serious is about music. It's my way of being honest.

Tell me more about your time at Meadows.
It's been great. When I was married the first year, I was not very involved here at school. I moved off-campus as soon as I could so that Scott (my ex-husband) and I could do our own thing. Then we divorced and I didn't have anybody, so I started to really hang out with the people I played with the most. I started getting into jazz a lot and I realized I had a lot more capability as a performer than I might have originally thought. I started to doubt whether I wanted to be a composer, because the people I was around emphasized the importance of performance and the ability to improvise. I fell into that and I learned everything that I could about improvisation and eventually computers and software and completely took off. I went through a personal Renaissance phase, a sort of industrial revolution! (laughs) Last year that's all I was doing, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Everyone I've been around has really helped me a lot, and I had nowhere near the network back then that I have today. I think everything happens for a reason and I wouldn't change anything that's happened. It's all been a learning experience and I'm happy for the positive and negative feedback that I've gotten from everyone.

For more information on Magen Miller, please visit:

An Interview with Thomas Schwan (M.M. ’10 - Piano Performance and Composition)

Thomas SchwanThomas Schwan has been composing music since he was a small child, and decided to continue his journey towards musical understanding at SMU.

Tell me why you started playing and composing music.
When I was eight years old I started playing piano, and a couple of years later I started writing down some musical thoughts. Now I devote equal amounts of time to composing and performing. When I grew up I studied composition in Milan, Italy, where I am from. I came to SMU first to study piano and got an Artist Certificate with Joaquín Achúcarro, then I decided to start a double-major Master’s degree in composition and piano performance. I really have to thank my teachers and SMU for this great opportunity.

Was music a large part of your family when you were growing up?
I don't come from a family of professional musicians, but they love music.

What then inspired you to start playing piano and get into music?
My mother recognized that I was interested in music and encouraged me to play.

What do you think about when you play music? What inspires you?
This is a delicate topic because it goes to the very root of writing and performing. It is a very difficult question to answer. (laughs) My concept - the personal idea that I follow - is that music doesn't have to be inspired by anything else besides music. I think that music is a very autonomous process, unless there are possibilities to connect it with other arts - like poetry. But even in that case, music lives its own life.

So you write music just for the purpose of writing music?
Yes. I think that real music should never be created for a material, concrete purpose. Its aim should be to illuminate our lives, and to create a better, fairer world than the one where we live - as Schubert said.

When we listen to and experience music, do you feel that we put emotion into the music, or does the music put emotion into us?
This is another difficult question (laughs): it is all about the communication between the creative artist and the individual who receives the message. I think it is a mutual communication; it is not one-sided. Listening cannot be passive – it must be active. In order to listen well we have to put ourselves into the music.

When you listen to music, do you listen emotionally or analytically?
Personally I think that sometimes our analytical background is misleading. After gaining it, we need to be able to renounce that construction, that structural analytical knowledge, in order to understand the essence of music.

Who have you been commissioned to write for in the past?
Last year, the
Dallas Chamber Music Society commissioned me to write a trio for piano, violin and cello. The piece was premiered in December 2009 by Lynda O'Connor (violin), Sebastien Hurtaud (cello) and me at the piano. I was very lucky to work with these incredibly gifted instrumentalists. I have also written a piece that was performed by Trio Garnati.

Tell me more about Trio Garnati and your music.
Trio Garnati is an accomplished piano trio based in Spain (Pablo Martos, violin; Alberto Martos, cello; and Tommaso Cogato, piano, who earned Artist Certificate and Master of Music degrees from SMU). They have requested me to write a new trio for them, with which they will tour in a series of concerts organized by the Baremboim-Said Foundation in Europe, Israel and Palestine.

What do you want to do with music after leaving SMU?
My greatest wish is to be always able to do what I love to do. I don't believe in the vulgar, materialistic idea of success which is one of the signs of our time. I believe the best accomplishment is to be able to live a materially simple life, but full of the joy of art.

For more information on Thomas Schwan, please visit his MySpace page.

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