A biased look at Grand Valley State University’s New Music Ensemble

A biased look at Grand Valley State University’s New Music Ensemble-

Seriously though, I am very biased. I attended Grand Valley State University (GVSU) from 2011-2013 so take my gushing with a grain of salt. Do your own research into their status.

The GVSU New Music Ensemble (NME) is a beacon for contemporary classical music in the mid-west, and the whole country. Their recording of Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich was performed at the Bang on a Can Marathon in NYC, spent eleven weeks on the Billboard charts, and was featured in numerous media outlets including the New York Times and NPR. Their biggest claim to fame is their double album of remixes of In C by Terry Riley. Check out their website devoted to the juggernaut new music project. Composition professor and GVSU NME director Bill Ryan does an incredible job of showing his students the ropes of the contemporary classical world.

The GVSU NME also works with the composition studio at GVSU for an annual micro-works competition. For the one I took part in, each comp student was asked to compose 1-3 minute-long works inspired by the old-school magic exhibit located in an on-campus art gallery.

A couple weeks ago I made a trip back to GVSU to visit family, friends, and work on a new saxophone duet I recently completed. I also decided to sit in on a NME rehearsal, and I was nothing short of blown away by what they are up to.

When I walked into the rehearsal space, I was reminded of what my band used to do to my parents home during rehearsals- cables, microphones, and speakers scattered all over the place. They were working on an In C remix by Dan Rhode for an upcoming concert, accompanied by the kind of nasty bass and funky beats I have come to expect from my colleague. Even though I have seen a lot of rockin’ new music stuff in my time, I am always giddy when I hear classical instruments paired with electronics. Next they rehearsed a fairly new piece commissioned by GVSU NME called Wide Open Spaces by Armando Bayolo. Finally, they did a run through of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet. As you may be able to tell by their repertoire, past and present, this group has outstanding players. They may all be undergrads, but they are nothing short of professional. 

After each piece was played through, there was always a moment of silence. But after that very brief moment, all of the students began talking amongst themselves- discussing dynamics, texture, tuning, etc. Of course they would always defer to Bill, and he would sometimes give his always wise two cents, but most of the progress I saw in this rehearsal came from within the group.

If you are in the Grand Rapids, MI area on November 8th, I highly recommend you come see the GVSU NME fall concert.  This show is a preview of their spring tour of the American West. The show is FREE.

Also, if you are in the Mid-Michigan are on November 10th, their will be a concert of new music written by students, myself included, of the Central Michigan University composition studio.