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Thinking Out Loud: Trey Makler and 'Elysium'

Columbia Missourian

Earlier this fall, MU junior Trey Makler was named the winner of the 2015 Sinquefeld Composition Prize, an award granted to the best work by an MU School of Music composition student. On this episode of Thinking Out Loud, we talk with Makler about his creative process, with his professor about what makes the award-winning piece work, and with the director of the MU School of Music who explains how the school is teaching more these days about the business of music. You'll also hear Makler's award-winning piece 'Elysium' on this week's Thinking Out Loud.

Each year, the Sinquefeld Charitable Trust awards the Sinquefeld Composition Prize to an outstanding student at the University of Missouri's School of Music. This year the winner is Trey Makler. The Mizzou New Music Ensemble recorded his winning work.

Asked about his process for composing, the unassuming Makler explained:

Every composer does it differently... I don't like to do pre-sketching. I don't really like to plan out the piece. I like to just kind of start and go and let it unfold. I'll back track and I'll make revisions, I'll expand sections. So, I guess in a way sometimes I do sort of plan out the piece because I might write the beginning, the middle and what I envision to be the end. Then, I fill in the blanks and bridge the gaps. With 'Elysium' it was a much more natural flowing. There a piano solo at the beginning that is the entire piece. Everything is ultimately derived from that idea.

Makler studies at the MU School of Music under Dr. Stefan Freund and Dr. Thomas McKenney. Asked about what made Makler's 'Elysium' a winning piece, the veteran music faculty member McKenney asked:

What makes any piece of music good? What makes Mozart good? A lot of people listen to new music and say 'It doesn't sound like Mozart.' And I said, "Well yeah, it doesn't sound like Mozart because we don't live in the 18th century any longer. We're in the 21st century." The ingredients of music are basically the same. Does Mozart have beautiful or interesting melodies? Yes. Does Mozart have interesting harmonic progressions? Yes. Is Mozart's music interesting rhythmically? Yes. It seems to me that I can say that same thing about Trey's piece, that his music has interesting melodic gestures it has interesting harmonically and it is interesting rhythmically.

Thanks to a major gift to from the Sinquefeld Charitable Foundation, the MU School of Music is now able to produce a well-trained crop of composers annually along with annual workshops for grade- and high-schoolers. The Sinquefeld gift also helped launch the Mizzou New Music Ensemble. The group exists in large part to play new music coming from the school's students.

A new element added to the classroom mix at the School of Music are classes that teach entrepreneurship skills. The School's director Dr. Julia Gaines explained that these classes focus on the business side of the music business and prepare students to survive as working artists after graduation:

We already have a Community Music Program that provides work opportunities for our students... We used that experiential learning part of it and combined it with some classes to create this really dynamic entrepreneurship program. In fact, right now we are the only school in the country that offers both an undergraduate and a graduate music-specific entrepreneurship music certificate.... It's a great asset for our students... The music education majors probably don't need this. They know what their job track is, but the Bachelor of Arts students and the Bachelors of Music students they know they want to play their horn, play their stringed instrument, sing, whatever, but how do they actually go out and make a living, let's say, in the City of St. Louis. Not all of them are going to make first chair with the St. Louis Symphony so they need to know, well, 'What if I wanted to start a chamber string quartet. Could I make a living in St. Louis?' and they actually can. They just need some tools in how to do that.... Our entrepreneurship program is providing them with tools so they can make their passion into a profession.

Students in the MU School of Music Music Entrepreneurship certificate program take classes about the music industry, learn interviewing skills, how to build a portfolio, build a web presence and do related internships. By offering these business-oriented courses and experiences, the School aims to have graduates that are well-prepared for the often harsh economic realities of being a working musician.

For winning the Sinquefeld award Trey Makler will commission a new work that will have its world premiere by the University Philharmonic Orchestra at the April 13, 2015 MU Chancellor's Concert.

Listen for new episodes of Thinking Out Loud each Tuesday at 6:30p.m. on KBIA.

Trevor serves as KBIA’s weekday morning host for classical music. He has been involved with local radio since 1990, when he began volunteering as a music and news programmer at KOPN, Columbia's community radio station. Before joining KBIA, Trevor studied social work at Mizzou and earned a masters degree in geography at the University of Alabama. He has worked in community development and in urban and bicycle/pedestrian planning, and recently served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia with his wife, Lisa Groshong. An avid bicycle commuter and jazz fan, Trevor has cycled as far as Colorado and pawed through record bins in three continents.
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