Elly Krepp spent three days, and nights, writing "Wanderer's Requiem," a musical composition for string instruments.
Her mom Juli Golder "just left me alone, and occasionally brought me something to drink," said Elly, 17, a Catalina resident, Canyon Del Oro High School student and violist.
"She had this inspiration," said Ilona Vukovic-Gay, Krepp's instructor in the Tucson Symphony Orchestra's Young Composers Project.
A year ago, a string quintet from the TSO performed "Wanderer's Requiem" during a "reading," an event at which professional musicians play a score they're seeing for the first time.
It was a nervous moment for a young woman. Krepp was "really self-conscious," wondering what people were thinking at the public unveiling of "Wanderer's Requiem."
"You're exposing a part of you," Krepp said, in the form of a piece of music "you've been working on for months. 'Here's a part of me. I hope you like it.'"
"You have to be really brave to do that," said Shawn Campbell, director of education and community engagement for the TSO. "You guys are really courageous."
The experience was "amazing," Krepp recalled.
"They loved it," Vukovic-Gay remembers of the response. "Her piece was a sensation."
"We started talking right away about where we could get that piece performed again," Campbell said.
"It really is an inspirational piece," Vukovic-Gay said. "It's so melodic."
"It's so touching, so beautiful," Campbell agreed.
This Friday, May 1, "Wanderer's Requiem" has a bigger orchestra, and a bigger audience. It'll be performed by a 40-musician TSO string orchestra during "Celebrate the Future," an annual show that presents the works and playing skills of aspiring young musicians and composers from TSO's Young Artists Competition and Young Composers Project.
"It's going to be very rich and full," Vukovic-Gay said of Krepp's piece.
"To get a work played by an orchestra is very rare," the instructor said.
"I'm lucky," Krepp said.
Krepp started her musical journey with piano lessons, learning how to read music, "which definitely helped.
"As long as I've understood what classical music was, I've wanted to play the violin," she said. She moved on to the viola — "it's like a violin, but cooler," Krepp says — in high school, when she became "really pretty kind of serious" about it.
Then, "I started to get curious about how music was created," she said. Elly began "plucking and writing," drawing sound from her instrument and scratching notes onto pads of paper.
"When I start writing a piece, I usually have zero idea" where it's going, Krepp said. "It's thinking of a melody I know will stick in your head," as it has stuck in her own mind. The melody is recorded, and she tries "to start imagining the other instruments, how they would blend into that melody, and adding a piece at a time."
Her mom bought her Finale, the computer software that allows the user to notate music, and listen to digital interpretations of what they have written.
"It only takes what the composer puts in," Campbell said. "The program isn't doing the creating."
"On the computer it's tortured to listen to, electronic-sounding and gross," Krepp said. "Then real people play it, with emotion and musicality."
"The quality is nothing like a human performance," Vukovic-Gay said.
Krepp gets to hear professional musicians perform "Wanderer's Requiem" at rehearsals this week with the TSO. She and fellow young composer Nicholas Marisco of Tucson have "an opportunity to make some polishing changes,' Campbell said.
Krepp would "love to" keep composing and playing music. "As a career, probably not."
"The competition is very tough," Vukovic-Gay said.
"And it's brutal," Campbell added.
Young Composers is "a wonderful life experience for them, whether they decide to go on with composition or not," Campbell said. "The skills you develop when you study a musical instrument, and certainly composition, are really valuable life skills."
Krepp's "Wanderer's Requiem" is in "a great category," Campbell said, because it can be played by a string quintet or a string orchestra.
"It also has a really good viola part," Vukovic-Gay added.
"You're going to be just amazed" by the May 1 performance, which features young composers and musicians alike, Vukovic-Gay asserts.
"They're going knock people's socks off," Campbell agreed.
Young Composers Project is a 'living laboratory' for budding musical talents
For two hours every other Saturday, 14 young students from greater Tucson immerse themselves in the worlds of classical music and orchestral composition.
They listen to music, study it, write it, talk about it. Once a month, they interact with guest composers and soloists. "They meet very famous individuals," said instructor Ilona Vukovic-Gay. Regularly, they get feedback on their scores from professional musicians. At the end of the school year, their works are performed in public reading sessions by Tucson Symphony Orchestra musicians.
Participants in the Young Composers Project use the TSO "as their living laboratory, to explore and experiment with the art of composition," according to Shawn Campbell, director of education and community engagement for the symphony.
Students, from elementary age to high school, enter the program with little or no experience in composition or music theory, a release said. All are instrumentalists at various levels of proficiency. The TSO lets them interact with contemporary composers, orchestra musicians and conductors. The class introduces theory, form and compositional techniques in a program developed by Vukovic-Gay. Each session has a theoretical focus that is supplemented with listening, score study and class activities.
Students can "listen to different pieces" of classical music, and "figure out the different roles of each instrument, and how they contribute" to a piece and interact with one another, Campbell said.
"It makes some of this music accessible to students," said Vukovic-Gay. "They hear things they wouldn't typically hear, and study the scores." And they write music, for ensembles and orchestra.
This year's group comes from widely diverse backgrounds and circumstances.
"It makes for a fantastic mixing pot of ideas," Vukovic-Gay said. "It's very interesting, dealing with these students. They're very intense. Each student is completely involved, completely focused and interested. They ask great questions." And their compositions are "so individual."
Orchestral and string compositions by students are being presented May 15 and 16 at "reading sessions" with TSO musicians. "It's the first chance they have to hear their piece performed live," Campbell said.
Vukovic-Gay, assistant principal viola in the TSO, has led Young Composers Project instruction for three years.
"I'm so thrilled we had the opportunity to hire Ilona," Campbell said. "She's helped the program grow tremendously."
TSO's Young Composers Project is the only Southern Arizona music education program to receive a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
"It's an honor and a validation of the quality of this program," Campbell said of the $15,000 grant. "We're starting to get recognition for our composers."
TSO is facing hard times; in a release last week, it announced an emergency fundraising bridge campaign.
"We could definitely use additional funding for this fantastic program," Campbell said.
- Dave Perry
TSO asks for $1M in aid
The Tucson Symphony Orchestra needs to raise $1 million by the end of 2009 to assure its existence beyond the 2009-'10 season.
A "perfect storm" of conditions threatens the 80-year-old organization, a release said.
"The TSO has cut costs as much as possible," the release said. "It has cut administrative staff and salaries of both staff and musicians, plus has asked guest artists for fee concessions. Any more cuts will seriously threaten the orchestra and the music. In the current economic climate, even with best practice marketing strategies to attract new audiences, selling more tickets is not a short-term possibility."
To make a donation, visit www.tucsonsymphony.org, scroll down and click on the "Donate Now" button, or mail your contribution to the TSO at 2175 N. Sixth Ave., Tucson, 85705.
To make a donation by phone, call 792-9155 x 103.