Student commissioning initiatives continue

Composition professor Ed Jacobs has been named to a second term as the Robert L. Jones Distinguished Professor.


Jacobs leveraged the Jones position to demonstrate proof-of-concept of the North Carolina NewMusic Initiative’s commissioning program.


He says that one of the purposes of the program is to change the curricular model. “Traditionally, professors select pieces that result in specific pedagogical outcomes,” he said. “This model is like asking history majors to select a scholar to write a textbook specifically for them.”


In the first year of a three-year cycle, music students research hundreds of composers, listen extensively to their work, conduct interviews, select a finalist and negotiate a contract for services. In the second year, the selected composer visits campus to teach, get acquainted with student and faculty performers and returns with sketches for rehearsal and collaborative discussion. In the third year, the work is premiered and recorded.


Rome Prize winner and Guggenheim Fellow Jim Mobberley, the first composer selected as a part of the program, delivered Capricious Paradise for a world premiere by the ECU Sinfonietta on April 2. A recording of the work is in final edit.


Also in April, Matthew Ricketts visited campus to share sketches of a piano concerto he is composing for professor Keiko Sekino and the ECU Symphony Orchestra. Conductor Jorge Richter rehearsed students for a reading of the sketches, which formed the foundation for artistic interaction between Ricketts, Sekino and students about the shape of the developing work. The piece will premiere in Wright Auditorium in April 2018.


Last fall, students contracted Pulitzer Prize winner and Julliard professor Melinda Wagner to compose a work for a small ensemble. She is considering incorporating student-generated text into the piece. “Mindy will likely ask students to define ‘truth,’ in a few words,” Jacobs explained. “She’s at the height of her career.  She’s just finished writing a piece for the Chicago Symphony and says that this project, because of her desire to use it to address this contemporary topic, feels like a step off the cliff into the unknown.” The work will premiere in 2019.


School of Music Director Chris Ulffers says the program is unique in the nation. “This gives our students an incredible opportunity to be intimately involved in every aspect of the creation of a new work,” he said. “Music schools have been trying to identify 21st century experiences for their students. This perfect example is happening right here at ECU.”


To expand interest in the program across studios, Jacobs’ colleagues are now leading “listening parties” with students as they explore composers’ works. Jacobs will direct a graduate assistant to research and write grants to support the commissions and to show other students the grant-writing process.


In September, Jacobs will introduce the concept to another group of freshmen music majors enrolled in Music 1000, encouraging a new group of students to take a leading role in the start of another three-year commissioning cycle.