The Making of an Album: SYZYGY’s New Tracks Showcase the Inspiration Behind Exploration
How SYZYGY, SMU’s New Music Ensemble, built an album of music and wrote a love letter to how it’s done in the process
Last fall, a handful of student composers set out to accomplish every musician’s dream: Create original music, record it in a top-notch studio and all the while be guided by experts. A group of six students and alumni were able to do just that with help from a three-time Grammy winner, a Meadows Prize winner and a highly respected, award-winning music composer and theorist.
It all started with a brilliant and ambitious idea by violist and 2013 Meadows Prize winner Nadia Sirota. She wanted students to write original music and produce an album performed by Meadows new music ensemble SYZYGY. With guidance from Sirota, Artist-in-Residence and Director of Chamber of Music Matt Albert and Meadows Associate Professor of Music Composition and Theory Xi Wang, who assisted in choosing the composers, the six students were tasked with creating original music. They were given the framework and spent the summer composing and editing. Then, in October 2013, the group went to January Sound Studios with SYZYGY and completed an album on master tapes.
During the process, each student and alum got to see how a professional album is made. Each track shows the love of the process and how the process rewards the listeners with tracks that range from brightly feverish to baroque and brooding.
In many ways, the album is the artistic result of trial by fire.
Albert says the piece by student Vince Gover (B.M. Music Composition, B.M. French Horn Performance, '14) underwent an evolution. “He had some of the most extensive rewrites, which was really exciting,” he says. “But after he heard his piece played, he went back and wrote a completely new transition. By the time he was done, he’d realized he’d started the beginning of a longer work or the beginning of a series of pieces. Through the attempt to write a self-contained piece, he realized he had a lot more to say,” says Albert.
Listen to Gover’s stunning, explorative Metamorphose I (2013) below, featuring performances by Boon Ping Tan (M.M. Clarinet Performance '15), Daniel Hawkins (B.M. Horn Performance, ‘14), Rachel Bundy (M.M. Violin Performance, '13), Nick Laham (B.M. Viola Performance, '14), Mandy Milliot (B.A. in Music, '14), Kevin Cho (M.M. Percussion Performance, '14) and Dario Martin (PD Piano Performance, '15).
Throughout the album, you can hear the adventure in improvisation. Albert says graduate student composer Jason Edward Platt (M.M. Composition, '14) was excited to write for a mixed wind sextet and it was a challenge Platt wanted to give himself. The piece is alive, and as Albert describes, the intent was to plainly hear “the many beautiful colors and tempos and energies.”
Hear Platt’s playful, vivid Interruptions and Diversions (2013) below, featuring performances by Emily Zirlin (M.M. Flute Performance, '13), Michelle Nguyen (B.M. Oboe Performance, ‘15), Hong Liu (PD Bassoon Performance '14), Chelsea Orr (M.M. Trumpet Performance, '13), Ray Henninger (B.M. Horn Performance '14) and Myles Blakemore (B.M. Trombone Performance, ‘15).
The tracks are built for repeat listens. Each track is evidence of the legacy that Nadia Sirota set out to build: student composers conjured original music, student performers recorded in a professional studio, and together they created an album.
“There’s the heart and soul of each composer in each piece, “ confirms Albert “As performers, it’s a tremendous responsibility and honor to be able to depict that.”
Read more about SYZYGY new music ensemble, Matt Albert, Xi Wang and Nadia Sirota.