MusicaNova President Bob Altizer talked with MusicaNova Composition Fellow Karalyn Schubring to go behind the résumé and find out more about her artistic influences, experiences, and goals.
What got you started as a composer 10 years ago, at age six? What was the first thing you wrote?
My piano teacher at the time at the East Valley Yamaha Music School, Heidi Grimes, suggested I write something of my own. My first composition was a piano piece called “When is school out?” I started with a story and wrote something for every part of it.
Who are some of the composers you admire?
Wow, there are a lot. My favorite periods are the late Romantic and the 20th Century, both classical and jazz repertoire. I guess I’d say Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Kapustin, Prokofiev, Debussy, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich. And don’t forget Beethoven and Bach!
Your bio says you’re passionate about performing and composing – is there something you really want to convey in your compositions?
Most of my ideas come from musical motifs that pop into my head at random. I carry a notebook where I jot down things or scenes I might like to write about – I never know when inspiration might strike! I also have some experience in improvisational theatre so that helps.
What sort of ensembles do you write for – like solo piano, small combo, rock band, full orchestra, and so on?
Most of my compositions have been for piano and one other instrument, like euphonium and saxophone. But in the last couple of summers I’ve been in great workshops and gotten to work with all sorts of ensembles like woodwind quintets, brass quintets, strings, percussion, and voice, as well as my school’s jazz band. At Tanglewood they even required me to write pieces without piano, to get me out of my comfort zone.
You’ve said “Symphonic Dance No. 1” that MusicaNova will play is your first orchestral composition. What is the orchestration for it?
It’s full symphonic orchestration, for strings (66432), woodwinds, brass, and percussion, about 40 players in all. I had written some pieces I played at the Downtown [Phoenix] Chamber Series a couple of years ago that [then-Phoenix Youth Symphony conductor] Keitaro Harada heard and encouraged me to write something for orchestra.
You’re an accomplished pianist — what instruments do you play besides piano?
I play clarinet in my school orchestra and also alto saxophone. I studied them for a couple of years but haven’t lately because I’m busy composing, playing piano, and teaching.
How do you know how to write for specific instruments in a symphonic ensemble?
Because I’ve written several piano-instrument duos, and compositions for other ensembles in the summer workshops, I had to learn how those other instruments worked and sounded with and without the piano.
Has a player ever told you “I can’t play that!”?
Not so far. By playing clarinet and sax I’ve learned about how a wind player needs phrasing and breathing that you don’t need for a piano piece.
Have you written any songs or vocal music?
At Tanglewood one of the weekly assignments was to write an art song so I based mine on a poem by Emily Dickinson. I haven’t written any choral music yet, but I’m definitely looking into making that my next project.
Tell me a little about the East Valley Childrens Theatre commission for Arya’s Rock – what was your process in developing the score for that show?
I had worked with them in shows as an actor and after I won the MTNA award in 2013 they approached me to write for Arya; it’s a play, not a musical. It was really interesting because the script was completed but none of the other production elements, like set, lighting, or costume design were started, so I got to be the first person to realize the script in an artistic way. I had to take the script and directions for cues they wanted – underscore here, transition there, and so on – and envision how the actual production would look. I did get a good idea of Arya’s character so I came up with “Arya’s Theme” that recurred throughout the score. There are over 20 short musical cues in the show.
What was your most memorable experience at the Tanglewood Young Composers Program this past summer?
The formal name of the program is the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artists Composition Program (BUTI YACP). The most memorable moment had to be the Composers Concert at the end of the six-week program. Every young composer in the program had to write a piece up to 10 minutes long, but that was about the only requirement. We could use any instrumental ensemble we wanted, so mine was a string orchestra piece. Each composer had to organize players and rehearsals for their piece and run the whole preparation process.
The other thing was meeting and working with the six senior composition fellows from the Tanglewood Music Center and getting to know them. They gave us lots of helpful feedback and it was a great experience for all of us to share our works with each other.
You’ve just started your senior year. What’s your goal after high school – conservatory, university, Nashville, Hollywood, etc.?
I want to study composition and piano, so I’ve applied to universities that offer that in their music schools, including Eastman, Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Rice, and USC. And some conservatories as well, like Curtis and Juilliard.
If you could spend a year studying anywhere in the world, where would it be? What would you expect to find there?
Germany, definitely! I’ve never been there but I think it’s a beautiful place, with fascinating history and amazing musicians.
When you’re not working in the studio or at the keyboard, what do you like to do?
Sleep! But otherwise, drawing and comedic improvisation. And I like to sketch people. Also I teach at the East Valley Yamaha Music School, both in groups and private piano lessons.
Finally, what’s an interesting fact about you that’s not in your bio that MusicaNova audience might like to know?
I don’t remember much of it, but when I was 18 months old my family lived in Malaysia for a year while my dad was on assignment there with Intel. Maybe that’s why I like noodles and he likes spicy food!
Thanks Karalyn. I look forward to hearing your piece on November 1.