Summer COMP 2020 Overview

Comp music
Jacob Gotlib

Summer is always a busy time for the Mizzou New Music Initiative. Besides the annual Mizzou International Composers Festival, each June we welcome up to sixteen high school-aged composers to campus for the Missouri Summer Composition Institute (or “Summer COMP,” as we call it affectionately), a weeklong composition-intensive summer camp. Over the course of the week, students work closely with the School of Music’s Composition faculty to write new pieces for the Khemia Ensemble, led by Drs. Carolina Heredia and Bret Bohman, as well as form lifelong friendships with their fellow composers.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we knew that this year’s camp (which took place June 20-28) would have to look a bit different than it had for the last 15 years. Our inability to meet in-person this summer inspired us to reimagine the camp as an entirely online experience. We moved all classes, private lessons, and even social activities to Zoom, where students could participate from their homes across Missouri and Kansas. The fact that the Khemia Ensemble – whose members were scattered across the globe – couldn’t perform the students’ projects live didn’t hinder us, as we developed plans for the musicians to record their individual parts using click tracks and assemble each piece in the studio.

It was a bold experiment – but for composers, no two words delight and inspire more than “bold” and “experiment”. For the first four days, our campers had group classes on notation and repertoire, hourlong private lessons with our faculty, instrument demonstrations by members of the Khemia Ensemble, check-in sessions with lab assistants Luis Hermano Bezerra and Niko Schroeder (MM Composition ’20), evening social activities with Daniel Vega (MM Composition ’20)… and somehow, also found time to compose new pieces for mixed quartet! On day five, they met with members of Khemia to go over the draft scores, and then the race was on to submit their final materials by day six (and in the process, they became well-acquainted with all composers’ best frenemy: the DEADLINE).

After the students submitted their scores and parts, they took the weekend off while Khemia got to work on their pieces. Each performer recorded their parts individually using a click track and sent it off to Khemia’s masterful audio engineer Stephen Downing, who along with Dr. Heredia, assembled and mixed the individual tracks together into coherent wholes for all 14 pieces. Finally, on the camp’s last day, the students, faculty, and performers came together again for a final listening party to hear their compositions and celebrate their tremendous accomplishments.

Khemia Musicians

As we said our goodbyes, we expressed our hopes that next year we can meet in person again. But even if the coronavirus has other plans, we know that it won’t stop us composers from inventing, innovating, and finding ways to collaborate and create new music.

“Despite the challenges, the students still managed to write incredibly expressive and powerful pieces. This year’s collection of pieces was among the best ever!” – Stefan Freund (Composition Professor/ Artistic Director of the Mizzou New Music Initiative)

My favorite part about this camp is getting the opportunity to work with a professional ensemble at such a young age, and having them perform my piece.” – Student Testimonial

 “Despite the exceptional circumstances in which we had the Summer COMP this year, I firmly believe that all students worked tremendously hard, culminating in pieces with abundant creative ideas. It is my hope that these composers keep creating music, and once the pandemic is over, they come to fully realize that live interaction with musicians is something we must cherish and protect at all costs.” – Yoshiaki Onishi (Post-Doctoral Fellow in Music Composition)

"It has been amazing to see how the limiting parameters of covid-19 has forced everyone to rise to the creative challenge of making music, manifesting something incredible and unforgettable in the process. Whereever we may find ourselves next year, I know the success of this year has set the bar higher for next year." - Er-Gene Kahng (Khemia Violinist)

To hear selections of student works from the 2020 Missouri Summer Composition Institute, performed by Khemia Ensemble click here