Western Carolina University will premiere a student-created original musical composition featuring melodies submitted by more than 50 musicians synchronized with a video that showcases the university and the region on campus on Friday, April 25.
The approximately nine-minute collaborative musical and video production is the culmination of a student-initiated project called The Harmony Initiative and will be screened along with a short documentary about the effort in the recital hall of the Coulter Building at 7:30 p.m.
“We wanted to come up with a way for musicians from all different backgrounds and different styles of music on our campus to give a little piece of themselves to create a product that is truly collaborative and bigger than any one of us could be on our own,” said Justin Beebe, a junior from Boone majoring in music education and director of The Harmony Initiative.
Beebe said he came up with the idea for the project while playing the piano last summer and reflecting on how although music is a universal language, differences in musical styles sometimes segregate rather than unify people.
“I wanted to get rid of the barriers that can come up between people and types of music, and bring people together regardless of whether they like jazz or pop or classical,” said Beebe.
He shared the idea of inviting musicians to submit musical ideas to weave into one piece with his Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity brothers at WCU, and soon had volunteers who wanted to help lead the project with support from the fraternity. Tim Sale, a sophomore from Bryson City majoring in music education, said he volunteered because the project seemed to be a strong fit with a goal of the object of the fraternity – to advance music in America.
The students created five chord progressions reminiscent of different styles – jazz, rock, pop, classical and ballad. They then asked musicians to submit notation for original melodies to accompany the chord progressions. Submissions came from WCU students as well as musicians across the country. Contributors also included the Alash ensemble from the Tuva Republic in Central Asia, which performed as guest artists at WCU. Impressed with their performance, student Harmony Initiative leaders approached the group’s manager afterward to invite them to take part.
After receiving the melody submissions, Beebe, who was committed to using every contribution, spent about a month arranging the piece. Then, David Myers, a senior from Cumming, Ga., majoring in commercial and electronic music who served as the project’s webmaster and lead audio engineer, began recording tracks in WCU’s world-class studios thanks to support from WCU faculty and the School of Music. Performers included WCU student musicians, some playing the original melodies they had submitted; Will Peebles, director of the WCU School of Music; and members of WCU’s quintet-in-residence, the Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet.
In addition, the composition utilized synthetic sounds, and Myers had nearly 300 different tracks to balance, edit, mix and master to sound like a unified ensemble “even though it was recorded eight measures at a time,” said Beebe. “We wanted to blend real instruments and modern technology, and transcend the barriers of sound and style.”
Myers spent about 400 hours working on the initiative, which required him to use all of the skills he had acquired as a commercial and electronic music student. The endeavor became his senior project. He said what began as a “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” conversation had grown into a massive undertaking that the students were not sure at first would work.
“The real challenge was to take all of these different musical ideas that stand on their own and weave them together in a way that makes sense and tells a story,” said Myers, who described the resulting composition as having a sense of romanticism.
Meanwhile, Josh Blue, a senior from Greensboro majoring in commercial and electronic music, captured and edited video footage of the music recordings, of WCU and of the region to create a video montage to synchronize with the piece. The footage includes aerial scenes.
Travis Bennett, associate professor of horn and theory and a member of the Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet, said he enjoyed taking part in the project and was impressed with the whole initiative as well as the students’ professionalism.
“This kind of collaborative composition is an amazing idea – something I’ve never heard of being done before,” said Bennett, who is Beebe’s adviser.
Tickets to the premiere cost $2 for students and $5 for all others and are on sale in the lobby of the Coulter Building from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday, April 25, and an hour before the show. Cash only will be accepted. Proceeds from the event benefit the WCU School of Music scholarship fund.
In addition to the event, the team will be producing a DVD of the music and video suited for a surround-sound environment.
For more information, watch The Harmony Initiative’s video trailer for the event or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Teresa Killian Tate