The Westerlies Mentor Students on Music Composition and Creativity

The Westerlies shared their insights and strategy on improv and music composition, inspiring students to delve into their own creative process

The Westerlies, a self-described “accidental brass quartet,” paid a visit to BYU on November 11, allowing students an opportunity to learn a bit more about the brass musicians up close. The foursome creates music that is a fusion of different music styles, mixing various genres such as classical, jazz and folk.

The group of brass players focused on their process of generating music and how this is a result of improvisation. After sampling a bit of their own improv, with one member conducting as others played, The Westerlies invited student volunteers to come up and try conducting the musicians themselves.

One student volunteer shared a bit about what that experience was like. Euphonium and bass trombone player Luke Liechty said that initially, it was “terrifying.” He added that while it was nerve racking, “It was fun to stand up in front of these world-class, great musicians and be able to go with whatever I wanted with the composition. It was a cool experience and I enjoyed it a lot.”

Liechty noted his appreciation for the unique styles that The Westerlies play, as they pull from a range of genres. “It was cool to see that interplay that they have, where they combine some of the styles and then pull in folk music stuff and all these other things,” he said.

The Westerlies taught that accomplishing their individualistic music style is heavily attributed to their practice of improvisation and using it as a performance, teaching and compositional tool. They said that while approaching a blank canvas is intimidating as both a player and composer, improvisation is a resource to get new ideas for music. The group said that all of their improv sessions are recorded in order to go back and explore sounds they were fond of. Doing so allows them to later incorporate these creations into new pieces.

The musicians explained that throughout the creative process of trying out new things, their ensemble is especially democratic. If any member suggests an idea, the idea must be tried. This way, all suggestions are explored.

After learning about how The Westerlies approach music composition, Liechty said, “It was inspiring. … It makes me more excited about trying to get into more composing and arranging things, and also getting better at my instruments so I can make music like that.”

The Westerlies said that while each individual has different tastes in music, at the end of the day, their goal is to put on a cohesive show and share with others the best of what they have to offer. This is fun, they explained, because in terms of the music that is “out there,” the options are endless.

This lecture was part of the Oscarson Lecture Series presented by the BYU School of Music, inviting distinguished members of the music world to speak to students. This lecture was sponsored by the BYU School of Music and the BRAVO! series.