Facing the Music

Professional recognition already has come to a pair of Moravian student composers: Melissa Spangenberg ’03 and Jeremy Sawruk ’03.

Melissa wrote a choral piece, “True Light,” set to a text from the Gospel of St. John, for the 2001 Vespers service. For last year’s concert by student composers, she offered “Tehillim,” a setting of two psalms in Hebrew for soprano and piano. Her own recital in November featured a work for women’s chorus with string accompaniment called “The Great Light.”

And she will contribute to the 2002 Vespers service, this time a wordless piece for flute ensemble based on a hymn from a collection by the 16th-century Moravian community called the “Böhmische Brüder” (Bohemian brethren). The original hymn is by Cyriakus Spangenberg. “Believe it or not!” Melissa says. Neither Cyriakus nor his father (also a composer) nor Augustus Spangenberg, for whom a Moravian dorm is named, is known to be a relation to Melissa.

Melissa went to Bucks County Community College for a year, then to West Chester University, before deciding on Moravian. Here she is majoring in music education and music composition, hoping to teach middle school and compose on the side.

She has been arranging hymns since she was 14. When she finds a text she likes, “I sit down at the piano and make up a tune,” she says. “I just play what the piece says.”

A piano solo piece by composer Jeremy Sawruk says “Gesundheit!” (literally). “When you see the score, you’ll understand,” he says.

The score looks—well, it looks like a sneeze. (And there it is, above.)

Jeremy traveled in October to Cambridge, England, to hear “Gesundheit” and another of his solo piano works, “Obfuscation,” performed in concert by the Anglia Contemporary and Experimental Music Society at Anglia Polytechnic University.

Also a composition student of Lipkis, Jeremy works in a notation software called Sibelius, and his graphic scores come from “pushing the limits of what Sibelius can do,” he says.

As you can see, this music might baffle J. S. Bach. The few notes don’t sit on a staff, it’s not in 4/4 time, there are no sharps or flats. Instead the graphic indicators for direction, force, duration, and pitch areas (high, low, central, extreme) give the performer a great deal of interpretive freedom. “One performance can be radically different from the next,” Jeremy says.

Jeremy’s major instrument is the trombone. His compositions include a string quartet and pieces for guitar duo, performed at last year’s spring concert.

Just before he left for England, he learned that a recording contract was on its way from Groove-a-licious, a subsidiary of Universal, the Los Angeles-based media conglomerate that includes Universal Studios. It’s for sound-track music, which increasingly is written not by “name” composers but by contract musicians for whom a label or studio finds a placement in a television or film vehicle.

However, Jeremy does not plan to sign it until he graduates. In case the contract demands exclusivity, he does not want to have to ask permission for his piece to be performed on the last student-composer concert of his college years.