BYU Music Program and BRAVO! Series Bring Students and Renowned Musical Group ETHEL Together

BYU students created original compositions for visiting music group ETHEL who then performed and discussed the pieces with the composers   ETHEL, a renowned string quartet and resident ensemble at the MET, spent time on Dec. 6 discussing and editing original compositions by BYU music students. Each student sent a piece or a collection of pieces to the quartet a few weeks before the masterclass. During the masterclass, ETHEL played a piece written by each student and discussed the piece with the composer. According to Kalysha Chandler, a junior studying music composition, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “So much of what you write you never hear because you have to get performers to play and convince them, ‘Hey this is really going to be worth your time,’” Chandler explained. “Just to have something played, first of all, is huge for any composer. I mean, I’d put it into a notation software, I’d heard it in Finale, but it’s not the same at all. Being able to have it played by such a high-caliber group is another really amazing thing, because these are professional players whose time is valuable and expensive. It would be ridiculous for a student composer to hire them.” According to Chandler, because so much of the composing process happens within the composer’s mind, it can make the artistic process isolating. “It’s sometimes easy for the composer to get disconnected from the performer because the composer’s just thinking of the theoretical and big picture stuff,” she said. “Being able to collaborate with the performers helps you realize it’s not just some abstract idea. There are people, performers, playing it. You think, ‘Wow, it was in my head and now it’s here and it’s real. Here’s some feedback they have for you. This change would make it easier for them to play. This alteration would make it sound better than what you have written.’” This collaboration with ETHEL opened up new aspects of Chandler’s piece to her. “There were musical interpretations they were doing that were just amazing. It was great to hear that they caught on to the piece and added to it,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of string experience, so being able to coordinate with them in real-time on writing for strings and having them give me specific feedback about how to write in their language was invaluable. Where else would I get that?” Chandler said she benefited from the opportunity to talk about music composition with a group that plays string instruments professionally. “I have 10 years of experience with the flute and wind instruments and band instruments,” she said. “I sometimes feel like I have a slight disadvantage compared to other composers because it’s such a specific niche. With a string instrument, you’ve got more cross-instrument knowledge you can apply.” The different tips ETHEL gave the assembled students while playing taught Chandler good composition practices and the unique strengths and struggles of each instrument, expanding her repertoire. Above all else, Chandler is grateful to her composition professors, who helped her prepare for and maximize the opportunity. “They’re very involved in our musical learning and education and care about our success as composers,” she said. “I’m really grateful for the faculty members who made it work and the many opportunities they provide, even just in this semester, to be able to correspond and work with high-caliber composers. I definitely credit many of the amazing opportunities we have to our hardworking faculty members.” You can learn more about ETHEL at their website.