SUN PRAIRIE — The Resonance program not only teaches middle and high school students how to compose music, but also how to recruit musicians and arrange and direct rehearsals to premiere the students’ work before a community audience.
The Resonance 2018 concert on Saturday at the Sun Prairie Performing Arts Center was the final component of the music composition program created and taught by Jon Nelson and William Smith.
“I knew nothing about composing when I walked in the first day. I got all the way to here somehow,” said Ryan Sellek, a freshman at Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School, before the concert. “I’ve had a lot of fun building up everything I know from the ground up.”
Sellek premiered his composition, which was a quartet for piano and percussionists. The other students and their compositions were Jacob Couch, junior at Sun Prairie High School, sonata for cello and piano; Hans Fuerst, senior at Waunakee High School, string quartet and tuba; Miles Gleason, sixth-grader at Patrick Marsh Middle School, chorale for brass ensemble performed by Sun Prairie’s music faculty in the district; and Isaac Meyer, sophomore at Sun Prairie High School, brass ensemble with piano.
The musicians performing the students’ premieres were peers, mentors or other musicians in the community. Gleason recruited six music teachers from the Sun Prairie Area School District, including his father, Chris Gleason, who works at Patrick Marsh.
While Miles Gleason had a composition performed in a band concert at Patrick Marsh, he is still “shocked” whenever he gets such a chance, he said.
The concert program alternated the students’ compositions with world premieres composed by Nelson and Smith, which were performed by them or by the students’ other mentors or area musicians.
Nelson — a Sun Prairie High School graduate who is now living in his hometown — is a composer and pianist whose music has been performed by various ensembles throughout the U.S. His keyboard playing can be heard on numerous studio recordings for artists and ensembles.
Smith is a guitarist, composer and educator based in Chicago.
The concert was sponsored by the Sun Prairie Arts Alliance. In addition, Resonance receives support from Prairie Music & Arts and the Sun Prairie Education Foundation. Resonance is partnering with Prairie Music & Arts, which is a community school of the arts, and runs its program out of the facility.
Nelson and Smith started Resonance after first coming to Sun Prairie High School in fall 2016 for an artist-in-residence program that evolved into something with more student participation. Resonance has continued to evolve and this year it introduced weekly private lessons and bi-monthly composer forums.
While Couch has extensive experience composing online, he said he gained valuable knowledge through Resonance about the business side of the field, which is “basically another world,” he said.
More changes are planned, including offering summer classes this year, involving students from additional Dane County schools and creating videos and more chances for students to connect through the website.
Nelson and Smith hope that by connecting students with mentors, the students will tap into a supportive network and be able to see what the next stage can look like.
“The professionals you know are really everything in terms of realizing your creative drive,” Smith said.
Both of them wish that type of opportunity had been available when they were young and believe there are still not enough opportunities for students to get this type of exposure and a chance to have their work performed in front of a live audience. They also are always looking for music professionals who are interested in having an impact on students.
More information about the program can be found on the Resonance website at rescomp.org.