DMA composition student Ryan Williams composes relevant new work
Ryan Williams, DMA composition student, wanted to give band kids a chance to perform during the pandemic. Alumnus Jay Sconyers wanted to be sure his band students at McNeese State University had the opportunity to perform together for the semester. Therein lay a challenge during COVID-19.
Sconyers called Williams on March 12, “the day the dominoes fell, so-to-speak, to ask if a virtual wind ensemble piece would be possible,” says Williams. After they agreed it wasn’t, they discussed the possibilities and ended up going for it. The intent was to provide band students with a band experience during the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected nearly all activities this spring.
“Jay and I hoped to get 8 or 9 universities to join in,” said Williams. “In the end, it was 27 universities and high schools from 17 states plus Trinidad. We expected to end up with 150-200 students participating; once all was said and done, I received more than 800 videos from 757 students.” Cormac Cannon and Jay Jacobs of UofSC bands, chose to join in and be a part of the project. “To have my own Gamecock classmates involved was a real thrill for me,” said Williams.
“The piece itself emerged as my own reactions to everything going on with the COVID-19 outbreak and how our country was reacting to it,” he said. “The first three sections of the piece are very much reactions to the current events (of mid-March): anxious over the unknown, trying to stay prepared for being quarantined, and wishing I could be back to my regular life. The final section offers optimism and hope: we will get through this. Even if things are different, it will pass and we will be okay.”
Williams composed the piece, set up the back-end systems to support the video submissions, and edited and compiled the project. Once the submissions began coming in, he began to grasp the size and scope of the project. “It was, beyond a doubt, the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.
“Seeing the final product come together: all the students, from around the country, performing the piece ‘together,’ as an ‘ensemble,’ from each of their 750 separate living rooms, bedrooms, basements, garages, practice rooms, etc., was really an amazing experience. It told me a lot about the resiliency of ‘band kids’– from current students through those of us who are teaching, writing, conducting, and so on. Despite all the challenges, they all still pulled together to learn their parts, to participate in something, and to be a part of a final product. No matter age or profession, we’re still band kids. So many experiences have been taken away from students and teachers this Spring. The things we are used to achieving, accomplishing, and doing haven’t happened. To have been able to provide the students with a chance to still get one thing before summer was an honor for me. But, despite all of that, I’m most looking forward to seeing ensembles get back together in the Fall and to see live music happen from a group of students working together, in the same place at the same time.”