BHSU student receives first prize in state-wide composition contest

Author: BHSU Communications/Monday, November 17, 2014/Categories: 2014

Jesse Dunaway, music education major from Rapid City, performs a piece from his composition "Persian Conversion" on the Black Hills State University campus. Dunaway recently received first prize for the composition at the South Dakota Music Teachers Association composition contest.

Black Hills State University music student Jesse Dunaway took home first prize in the South Dakota Music Teachers Association (SDMTA) composition contest.

The statewide contest provides an opportunity for collegiate musicians and composers to write and submit a unique score for judging. Dunaway, a music education major from Rapid City, submitted a score and recorded performance he originally created for a music theory course at BHSU.

"I looked at different music scales that other cultures use," Dunaway said. "Some of the musical content I chose was from the Middle Eastern culture. But I added a twist to it, adding European and Western music to the score. Combining these ideas of eastern and western tonality, I called it the 'Persian Conversion'."

It took Dunaway nearly four months to complete the 23-page composition.

"Writing the music and knowing how I wanted it to sound wasn't the challenging part. The hard part was getting it down on paper and using a computer program to notate it," Dunaway said. "It's a long process. I spent on average four to six hours a day in a computer lab working on it."

"Jesse is growing tremendously as a composer," said Dr. Symeon Waseen, assistant professor of music at BHSU. "This particular piece involved some very challenging notation for improvisatory and aleatoric musical gestures."

Aleatoric means that some elements of the music are left to the discretion of the performers. It is very challenging to incorporate that kind of direction into the score, especially when an ensemble of performers is involved, Waseen explained.

In addition to a mix of cultural music and performance styles, Dunaway chose to create a composition for an eclectic group of instruments. The piece is designed for soprano and altos, string bass, bass drum, didgeridoo, suspended symbols, chimes and the piano.

The didgeridoo, which is an Australian wind instrument, adds another unique touch to the piece, Dunaway said.

"I found out there was a person on campus that had a didgeridoo and I immediately wanted to incorporate that into my piece," Dunaway said.

Dunaway is constantly writing music. He has written several compositions over the years and is working with the theater department on their show, "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol."

Dunaway also is part of a large-scale composition project with Waseen. The two are writing a series of compositions focusing on different components of the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead.

He plays the piano and guitar and performs in the BHSU jazz ensemble, concert choir and drumline.

Dunaway's dedication to the program and first-place award, coupled with the talent of the BHSU music department, will hopefully further music composition at BHSU, Waseen said.

"It is my dream to eventually offer a composition degree here at BHSU," Waseen said. "I think it would be a very unique niche for our department. The compositional success of our students demonstrates how well-rounded our students are as musicians. Having these experiences strengthens their abilities as musicians, regardless of their career paths in music."  
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