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Student's composition selected for Omaha Symphony New Music Symposium

Contact: Christina Chapple


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Brian Hanson

     HAMMOND Southeastern Louisiana University senior Brian Hanson of Covington has won a national composition for young composers sponsored by the Omaha Symphony Guild.

     Hanson’s composition, “Creatures of Habit,” will be performed during the Omaha Symphony New Music Symposium, April 8-10. The approximately nine-minute piece for chamber orchestra was one of four selected for the symposium, a new program sponsored by the Omaha Symphony Guild “to provide opportunities for young composers to test their skills in a real-life laboratory setting.”

     In addition to having his composition performed by the Omaha Symphony, Hanson and his fellow winners will receive $500 cash prizes, attend a masterclass with renowned American composer Michael Daugherty, and have the opportunity to work with conductors and musicians from the Omaha Symphony.

     “I was very surprised,” said Hanson, who studies composition with Southeastern music professors Stephen Suber and Jeremy Sagala. “I started writing it just to compose an orchestra piece, then saw the information on the contest and changed the orchestration to fit. I didn’t have much confidence in sending it off. I was hoping for maybe honorable mention.”

     Suber, however, was not surprised by Hanson’s success, and neither was David Evenson, head of the Department of Music and Dramatic Arts. Suber described Hanson as one of several “star students” studying composition and theory at Southeastern, while Evenson said, “I’ve been waiting for the world to notice his big talent. Brian is a remarkable talent and that was evident early on.”

     “Winning something like this really represents being in the top one percentile of composition students in the country,” Suber said. “It is a very, very good thing. Brian will get to work with the orchestra as they rehearse his piece, have the opportunity to make changes as he hears what works, what doesn’t. That experience is so valuable. You can’t teach that; it is something you have to experience.”

     “Creatures of Habit” is not Hanson’s first attempt at composing an orchestral piece, but it is his most ambitious, he said. He spent two months on the work before submitting it last November to the New Music Symposium contest.

     It is also his first composition of atonal music – music in which the notes are not related to any mode or key. “This was an adventure for him,” said Suber. “He was experimenting with a whole new language.”

     “The average listener would be very surprised by how it sounds,” Hanson said, describing "Creatures of Habit," which is written for flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, trombone, tuba, timpani, and strings. “Each instrument’s line is its own little creature of habit. The feeling one might get after hearing this piece is equal to that of waking up every day and taking a cold shower. The goal is to make the listener feel uneasy about his or her inner feelings and the surrounding environment creating a sense of anxiety.”

     Hanson originally enrolled at Southeastern on a guitar performance scholarship through the encouragement of Southeastern guitar professor Patrick Kerber. He said he has been drawn to composition since high school, where he first learned the basics of theory and tonality.

     He plans to earn a degree in general studies, since composition is an elective course of study at Southeastern, and then pursue master’s and doctoral degrees with the goal of becoming a professional composer and teaching on the university level.

     Southeastern has not only provided him a great working relationship with his composition professors, but, “I have directors here who have worked with me,” Hanson said. His works have been read – performed by sight reading – by both Glen Hemberger’s Southeastern Wind Symphony and Alissa Rowe’s university choirs. His composition for guitar and flute was performed by the Southeastern Guitar Ensemble.

     “At other schools, there would be no chance of that happening,” Hanson said. “Once you hear your piece actually performed, it changes how you write, your whole process of composition. We have many opportunities at Southeastern. We just have to have the drive to do it.”

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