Accomplished Composer Michael Isaacson Shares his Expertise with Composition Students

February 14, 2011

Michael Neil Isaacson
Photo by David Noe

During a master class in the intimate Tiedtke Concert Hall on Thursday, February 10, composition students in the Rollins Department of Music presented and performed original pieces to which Winter Park Institute Visiting Scholar Michael Isaacson gave professional critique.  Isaacson, a world renowned composer, conductor, producer, and educator, shared his musical genius and passion for Judaism with the Rollins College Community in a series of events last week.   

Three contrasting compositions were presented during the master class. The pieces, whose genres were Isaacson’s intellectual forte, ranged from choral to art-song and film score and demonstrated the unique talents of each featured student composer. Richard Simunac '13 debuted A Cadence Sadly Sung, a choral octet with piano accompaniment. Prior to the performance, Isaacson discussed with Simunac the inspiration for the work, and had him recite a poem on which the composition is based. “I do not like to think of it as a sad song because I don’t like to think of myself as a sad person,” commented Simunac. “The piece is about finding joy in the pains of life because life is a never ending song, a perpetual cadence.”

The piece was performed by an ensemble of music majors and received accolades from the audience. Isaacson admired the work’s romantic qualities and then made suggestions to improve the dramatic elements of the arrangement. “We are composing by decomposing. A composer’s job is to make the music accessible for the majority of its audience,” said Isaacson.  The piece was then played a second time, incorporating Isaacson’s critique, resulting in a more refined work. “Dr. Isaacson really helped me figure out how to convey the message behind the piece to the audience in ways I would have never thought of,” Simunac shared.

Isaacson observed how most composers tend to write too much music when they first begin composing. Comparing music to painting, Isaacson remarked that “when you paint with too much color, your canvas turns black. An experienced composer understands that the less color used, the more it will be understood and appreciated by the audience.”

The other featured composers included Cory Caplinger '12, who presented an art-song, which was the result of a collaboration between himself and vocalist Marcus Vu '10 and Ted Henderson'11 who presented an original score he created for a scene in the film No Country for Old Men.  Isaacson, who is a master of choral composition and has scored numerous TV shows including Hawaii Five-0, Little Women and the Bionic Woman, offered his expert opinion to each student. 

“I appreciated his acknowledgement of just how difficult and fearful sharing with the world something so creative and personal can be for a composer,” Henderson reflected following the master class. “Isaacson was clearly of the opinion that, regardless of that internal fear of artistic rejection by an audience, the submission of work to realms in which it will actually be heard is crucial for an artist to grow.”

Isaacson will be on campus in the Department of Music throughout the rest of the week and will present and perform in an event titled The Music of Judaism, Women, and the Holocaust at which he will talk about writing music as a reflection on the Holocaust.  For more information on upcoming events, please visit the Winter Park Institute.

By Justin Braun '10 '11MBA

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