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A Budding Endowment

Creating original music is an art form that requires robust musical skills, knowledge, artistry and time. Endowments like The Whittaker Composition Commission, sponsored by Mark and Barbara Whittaker, foster creativity by supporting young composers. The fund awards one current undergraduate or graduate composition student an opportunity to write a new work to be premiered by a School of Music ensemble the following academic year.

Receiving the Whittaker Commission has been such a wonderful opportunity for me. I hope this commission has a similar effect on future recipients as well! 

– Ian Schwalbe (B.M. Composition, ’24)

Ian Schwalbe, a music composition major graduating this spring, is the recipient of the 2024 Whittaker Composition Commission. His work, Tree(3), will be premiered on March 20, 2024, by The Collective, a collaborative, mixed-instrumental ensemble dedicated to developing skills as artist-citizens through community and audience engagement. 

Schwalbe says Tree(3) is about finding community amongst the seemingly endless world of people living all over Earth. 

“In mathematics, Tree(3) is a number so large that if a single atom could represent each digit, all the atoms in the universe would be nowhere near enough to write it down. However massive as this may seem, the number has been proven to be still finite; undoubtedly, an upper bound distinguishes Tree(3) from infinity,” says Schwalbe. “To me, this number represents some very human ideas. The incredible scale of Tree(3) reminds me of our human population, more than we could ever hope to interact with, yet still limited by the same incomprehensible ending.”

The pattern that generates Tree(3) starts very slowly and quickly explodes to this colossal quantity, moving from an intimate beginning into a blazingly fast groove. 

Members of The Collective will help portray the community aspect of Schwalbe’s ideas by each sharing the duties of playing the metal pipes in the center of the stage. 

“And, like the number, the piece ends again with a mysterious, open-ended, yet conclusive idea that calls back to the beginning,” says Schwalbe.  

The Collective rehearse


The Whittakers received a preview of the composition at The Collective’s rehearsal for their upcoming performance.

“At rehearsal, we were touched by the diverse backgrounds and tremendous skills of each musician who played Ian’s captivating composition. Observing visually and aurally the interaction of  the musicians, composer, and their faculty advisor, Claire  Bryant,  showed us how the commission fosters the musical creative process,” said Barbara Whittaker. 

“Receiving the Whittaker Commission has been such a wonderful opportunity for me. Working with the Collective has allowed me to write the most substantial piece of my compositional career thus far. Tree(3) is challenging, exciting, and truly representative of my musical voice and personality,” says Schwalbe. “Having the chance to learn from this ensemble and workshop this music has taught me so much, and I hope this commission has a similar effect on future recipients as well!”

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The Collective presents  “Postcards From Home,” a worldwide musical journey that celebrates the talent and creativity of these graduate students, on March 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the School of Music Recital Hall. In addition to Tree(3), the concert includes music arrangements of Bartok Romanian Folk Dances, Gershwin’s Three Preludes, and folk songs representing The Collective’s musicians. 

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