William & Mary

Student Composers and Performers Undertake Research in Italy

Brian Hulse, professor and composerThis summer, four of the College’s Music majors will travel to Pavia, Italy, to participate in the 2008 soundSCAPE festival. With them will be professor and composer Brian Hulse, who has been associated with the festival since its inception.

Mike Johnson, Sarah Puckett, Dan Siepmann, and Stephanie Thomas – all members of the Class of 2009 – were selected on the merits of their performance and composition skills. Johnson and Siepmann will attend the festival as composers; Puckett and Thomas, as pianists.

“The festival runs from July 15 to 25,” said Siepmann. “At the end, there’s a big concert of sorts, where all of the pieces are performed by the faculty and students.”

The capital letters in soundSCAPE stand for Sound Composition And Performance Exchange. “There’s no dominant musical style at all,” Professor Hulse said. “There’s a sense of carrying on an art music tradition, but it’s deeply influenced by all kinds of other musical traditions – jazz, pop, non-Western music.”

Mike Johnson, '09Professor Hulse wanted to show his talented students more of the contemporary music scene, and soundSCAPE presented the perfect venue. “The festival started three years ago in a Tuscan town called Cortona,” he explained. “Some performers started it while I was doing a residency at Eastern Mediterranean University, and it seemed like they needed a composer to make it a whole, really round it out. So I guess I was in the right place at the right time.”

Each year soundSCAPE has grown steadily in size. “This is our first year at the conservatory in Pavia, a town south of Milan,” said Hulse. “We’ve doubled the size of our faculty, and we added a couple of composers and other instrumentalists who are really top-notch performers. We quintupled, maybe septupled, our applicants – there were more than twice as many as we could take. And that’s just the composers.”

Professor Hulse applied for and won funding through the W&M Charles Center’s Mellon initiative to integrate student research opportunities into the curriculum. “The grant will pay the students’ tuition, room and board, and some of their flight costs. In return, participating students will create a student-run new music ensemble at the College. Through this festival, they’re going to take master classes in comp and performance, they’ll go to open rehearsals, they’ll have private lessons, they’ll get their music performed or perform it, and they’ll learn the practical side of new music performance, which is a very collaborative effort between performers and composers.”

Dan Siepmann, '09“We’re encouraged to wander around an ancient city with our laptops and start composing wherever we please,” Johnson wrote. “Personally, I’ll be focusing on learning the different, more modern, styles of composition that will be available to learn at the festival, as this is one of my weaknesses as a composer. We get to work with amazing instrumentalists, and we have a lot of compositional freedom.”

Since the news of his acceptance, Siepmann has been working with Professor Duncan Neilson on the piece he intends to debut this summer. “It’s a piece for piano, flute, and violin as a trio. I also have an electronic background that the performers will play in tandem with.”

“Not enough people understand that W&M is a great place for music,” said Professor Hulse. “We have a superb, eclectic faculty and excellent. I think the soundSCAPE festival exemplifies that.”