When you think composer, do you think dead, white, male, with scary hair? Well, think again. Colby has fostered a number of composers who are neither dead, nor exclusively white or male. The use the meduim of music in a variety of ways to express their artistic ideas, and they want you to listen.

By Rebecca Green | Photos by Fred Field

Joshua DeScherer '99 knew he wanted to be a musician from an early age but made a conscious decision to pursue his dream at a liberal arts college rather than a conservatory. Now he's studying for a doctorate in composition at SUNY-Buffalo so he can teach as well as compose.

Anna Bridges '99 came to Colby to become a scientist, but she also wanted to take voice lessons. As a double major in music and biology, she was doing genetics research and singing opera in London by her junior year. Now she's a doctoral student in composition at the University of Pennsylvania.

Eric Thomas, director of band activities at Colby, had a conservatory training and was bound for a career as an orchestral musician. Following his own curiosity about music, however, he soon branched out into conducting and composing. "I don't really feel like a musician unless I'm doing all those things,— he said.

Jonathan Hallstrom, associate professor of music, saw his career as a composer of electronic music launched by a three-week stint in the Stanford lab of a renowned computer-music pioneer. Now he's passing on the principles and the passion to music majors and non-majors alike.

Adam Souza '06, quite possibly the next generation, is part sound sculptor, part mad-scientist, and he relishes the control afforded when a composer works with state-of-the-art technology.

Arthur Levering '75 couldn't read music when he arrived at Colby (toting an electric guitar and Jimi Hendrix albums) but has forged a successful career as a composer of contemporary classical music and winning a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002, an honor he shares with some of the most renowned American composers of the 20th century.

"The idea of composition must have been burning within,— said Peter Ré, fellow composer and emeritus professor of music, who taught at Colby from 1951 to 1984.

Ré came to Colby as a student of Paul Hindemith, one of the few modern masters who was concerned about the growing gap between composers and their audiences. Hindemith taught his students to be active as performers, scholars, and teachers as well. Ré took that to heart, conducting the Colby Symphony until he retired in 1984. He is also widely credited with rejuvenating the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, which he led from 1964 to 1974 and which is now the oldest continuously operating community orchestra in the country. He hasn't stopped conducting either, leading the Bangor Symphony recently in Celebratory Overture, a work he composed for the symphony's 100th anniversary.

Sometimes that burning desire to create music just can't be ignored. Ask Bridges, who graduated and landed a job working on vaccine development at Massachusetts General Hospital. She continued composing and shadowed DeScherer in his masters composition seminars at Tufts. Though Bridges is still publishing scientific papers from her time in the lab, music composition is her main focus at Penn.

Hearing her own music played is "addictive,— she says. But the creative process in the academic context is not for the faint of heart. "You don't have the luxury of [waiting for] inspiration in graduate school,— she said. "I've never done anything harder. It's painful! But I can't not do it.—  

DeScherer knows the feeling. At a liberal arts college, he said, "You're putting more into your head than just music.— Now, rather than a career playing someone else's music in a symphony orchestra, he is bound for a life of composing and teaching.

Unlike DeScherer, Levering didn't foresee music as a priority when he came to Colby, but after taking a music theory course with Dorothy Reuman, he borrowed his housemate's acoustic guitar and later decided to major in music.        

It was the right choice.

Awestruck by a performance at Colby by classical guitarist Eliot Fisk, Levering went on to study with Fisk at Yale, earning an M.A. in performance. For five years Levering played in the Orpharion Duo, did music transcription, and began arranging music for the guitar and lute ensemble. He then realized that "composing was the most deeply satisfying thing I'd done musically.—
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