By Ayerin Simmerman-Esteem
The manner in which two different musicians compose and perform can be just as distinct as their personalities. “Individuality of expression is the beginning and end of all art,” wrote the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
My housemates in Isla Vista, Cory Fildes and Will Stout, are a case in point. They are both undergraduate composition majors at UC Santa Barbara’s Music Department and write sheets of music every week. But although these two room together, their personal journeys differ completely and that is strikingly apparent in their music.
Will writes eloquent musical passages up to 10 minutes long for orchestral instruments such as piano, violins, trombone, and cello. His music takes you on an emotional journey very similar to the orchestral poems written by the French composer Claude Debussy.
In Will’s most recent piece “Tribulation,” which he wrote on the computer program Finale, the piano and cello start slowly and somberly and then transform into a richer ensemble when the hearty trombones kick in. His music goes hand-in-hand with his personality; Will is extroverted, loves conversation, and is not afraid to delve into his feelings to connect with others. Both in Will’s music and during conversation, his tone is well articulated in that it is always clear what he wants his audience to feel.
One individual that he connects particularly well with is his roommate, classmate, and best friend, Cory Fildes. Will and Cory share the same major and spend most of their time together, whether it be walking to class, watching TV, or staying up all night doing homework.
Cory’s personality and style, however, differ from Will’s in that he is a free-spirited entertainer with a strong rock-and-roll influence on his music and everyday life. Cory loves the spotlight and can be found playing electric guitar with the amplifier turned all the way up. He often experiments with new concepts in his music and is not opposed to standing out for his differences. For example, his current composition “Live for the Chase” is written in-between two keys, which is rare in music.
Unlike Will, Cory prefers to physically record his music with a microphone on the instrument. His choice of instruments is also unconventional as he blends heavy metal guitar and bass with classical piano and violins. Cory applies classical music theory to the modern genre of alternative rock to make a truly unique sound.
It wasn’t always so clear to Will and Cory what types of musicians they were striving to be. As a freshman, Will could play piano verses on the fly and Cory was an all-out-rock-star on the guitar. They were talented, but as they each progressed through the major they had no choice but to redefine their skills and decide what type of style they wanted for their music.
Music theory courses and hours of analyzing sounds in the Music Department at UC Santa Barbara taught the young composers what arrangement of notes sound good and why. This knowledge allowed them to truly analyze their own music and creative processes. In music, every note has purpose; as Will learned more about the meaning behind each note, he began to question if his tendencies when writing music conveyed the emotions that he wanted them to.
“Patterns and rhythms I used to drift towards all have to be questioned in an academic context,” Will said. “And it’s hard to tell whether that’s for the best.”
While learning the textbook approach to music and polishing their technical skills, Will and Cory defined their separate, individual styles. To Cory, bending convention in music is more than just a stylistic element. He grew up listening to metal music and only recently began learning classical composition, so the fusion of heavy metal sounds with orchestral melodies reflects his background as well as his education. Cory uses his music as a string to tie his academic experience to his personal life, resulting in a sound unique to him.
Will says that as a musician he wants to “take you on a journey packed with different feelings…or vibes.” The feelings of sadness and joy reflected in his music are special to Will and inseparable from his experiences. Will’s unique music comes from various life-experiences. For example, when he and his girlfriend broke up, his feelings of loneliness led to a mostly somber sound. He eventually started feeling better and tweaked some of those sad songs to give them more energy. The personal journey in Will’s creative process is what adds emotional depth to his music.
The technical skills Will and Cory learn at the Music Department make their compositions more complete and gives them greater control over what they create. They both take it upon themselves to bridge the gap between their learned musical skills and their intrinsic interests and talents. Cory combines rock and classical music, while Will focuses on combining his piano talent with the raw emotion that his life experiences supply. Their composition major offers these young artists an arsenal of musical skills that they apply to personal, individual pieces.
Ayerin Simmerman-Esteem is a third-year UC Santa Barbara undergraduate, majoring in Biological Sciences. He wrote this for his Writing class Journalism for Web and Social Media.