Music student writes concert band piece

Nathan Grocholski, a fifth-year music major, composed an original piece of music. His work, titled “Dark Fire,” was featured in the concert band’s spring performance. Vanguard Photo | Kyle Will

The SVSU concert band featured an original composition by student Nathan Grocholski in its spring performance on Wednesday, April 17, at 7:30 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre.

Grocholski, a fifth-year music major, plays clarinet in the band. His piece was titled “Dark Fire.”

Norman Wika, the director of the band and an assistant music professor, noted that student pieces have never been included in band concerts in the time he has been at SVSU.

“At the beginning of the semester, Nathan was putting together applications for grad school and wanted a recording, so we rehearsed and recorded (“Dark Fire”) for his portfolio,” Wika said. “We just kept it in the folder, and I decided it would be a good fit for the concert.”

Grocholski said his composition arose from an assignment his freshman year of college.

“I took a composition class my freshman year, and our assignment was to look at movies without scores,” he said. “I looked at the 2012 found footage film ‘Chronicle,’ which is about three teenagers who are granted powers and must learn how to control them.”

He said the film was very similar to a novel project he was working on, also called “Dark Fire.” This novel inspired the name of his composition.

He talked about the process of getting his composition ready for performance.

“My least favorite part was printing out all the individual parts,” he said. “It can be a tedious process, because not only do you have to spend money on all the pages you print, but in the first read-throughs, sometimes it comes down to not printing enough pages, or the measures don’t line up with the score, and you have go back and edit them and start the process all over again.”

He added the struggles were well worth it.

“My favorite part, however, is the actual rehearsal with everyone and seeing how putting notes in a computer program transforms into a live, actual human performance of sound,” he said. “Every time I hear the main motif played in the low brass at the beginning, I get pumped up, ready to take on this superhero persona that I was trying to create in this piece.”

Grocholski talked about the transformations his piece went through as the band played it and his classmates made suggestions to the piece.

He said listening to the feedback of individual players and the conductor was essential.

“I may make mistakes like giving the flutes too low of notes, and their sound gets buried underneath the more prominent brass section,” he said. “Sometimes I make chords that sound too crunchy in awkward octaves, and I need to make them higher. Little things like that can go a long way in the composition process, and I must take advantage of every opportunity that I can for that kind of feedback.”

Aubrey Payment, a second-year horn player, also pointed out how crucial student feedback was to Grocholski’s final piece.

“It was interesting to play something a classmate had written, because we could actually ask how he’d like us to interpret it, and we could give advice on how to improve it so he could hopefully learn from his mistakes,” she said.

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