by: CBU alumni Geoff Grant
Dr. Bonner asked me to write a piece that encapsulates the heart of the Collinsworth School of Music. No big deal right? That’s kind of like saying, “We think something is a certain way, and we want you to figure out how we think it is, and then write something that you think sounds like how we think about this thing…” Very confusing. It’s as if Dr. Bonner asked me to compose a musical depiction of a diamond—I can spend a lifetime trying to think about what the diamond might look like from every angle, but the truth is that I only really know what the diamond looks like from my own perspective. I am not objective. How I feel and think about the Collinsworth School of Music is completely subjective to my own experience. So much of who I am is wrapped up in my years at CBU, and certainly those influences can’t help but drip onto the pages of my music.
All that to say, the Collinsworth School of Music is so much more than merely what I have personally experienced. With this understanding in mind, I humbly set out to try to embody some of the essence of the place that I was blessed to be a part of for four years:
The overall texture of the piece was derived from the dichotomy of fresh, modern sound and traditional textures. Simply put, the Collinsworth School of Music strives to create fresh, innovative music using mediums that are tried and true, rich with history and tradition. I wanted to create something that was modern and culturally appealing (think: Apple commercial) while using the vehicle most familiar to the School of Music. This was manifested through the use of traditional orchestral voices combined with electronic elements, minimalist techniques and a pseudo sonata form.
I spent hours trying to flesh out what some of the core values of the School of Music would sound like in musical form, and here are just a few ways that I was inspired to express them:
- The exposure to a variety of musical styles, performing opportunities, and worship venues: I chose to depict this through the stacking fifths found in the brass, woodwinds and piano. You can hear them most clearly in the transitions in and out of the ‘B’ section (around the 1:10 and 1:45 minute marks). Though these stacking fifths fit in the overall tonal key, they don’t quite fit with the common practice chords with which they overlap. They stack on top of each other, creating a more interesting musical concept than a traditional 1-3-5-7 chord stack. In the same way, the broad spectrum of experiences that CBU music students are exposed to do not always seem natural, but ultimately they fall into place, resulting in both a more interesting musician and a more well-rounded person.
- A curriculum designed to inspire: This was probably the easiest for me to imagine as a musical motive. It can be heard in the celeste, piano and harp outlining chords in eighth notes. This motive was designed to pose a question. The question is not specific, but rather symbolic of the philosophy behind the CBU music curriculum. I can honestly say that I graduated having more unanswered questions than when I began as a freshman. This wasn’t because the faculty failed to answer my questions, but rather because they taught me to think for myself and to wrestle with the many realities of life, including matters of faith, music and education. As the piece moves on, the tonality of this motif stabilizes, symbolizing that though questions will continue to arise as we grow and mature, we will also become more practiced in seeking wisdom and finding clarity and resolution.
- Emphasis on performance and musical communication: The performance motif acts as a response to the curriculum motif. As the tonality of the curriculum motif stabilizes, it is answered by the leaping arpeggios in the woodwinds. This symbolizes the unity between the curriculum and the performance emphasis. As the student is exposed to critical thinking and skill development in the classroom, they are also given a constant laboratory to put into practice the things that they are learning. In the same way, the woodwinds follow the celeste, responding to its melody.
- A respected student-centered faculty: The faculty motif is subtler. It can be heard in the beginning and end, played by the celesta and harp. Tonally, the motif falls downward in a pentatonic sequence. I thought that the faculty motif should be less present but still interesting, complex and challenging. At the Collinsworth School of Music, the primary purpose of the faculty is to support the success and growth of the students. They don’t exist to bring fame to themselves or promote their own academic agendas, but rather to selflessly serve their students and facilitate growth. Thus the theme is less obtrusive than the others, seemingly floating above the other textures and facilitating the overall success of the piece. It is not a demanding presence, but rather a humble cohesiveness.
- A strong community: This final motif is perhaps my favorite, not only because of its musical texture but also because of the meaning and memories that accompany it. The community motif serves as glue and can be found throughout the entire piece. It is in the minimalist textures played in the harps, guitars and flutes. This texture is the foundation on which everything else builds. The community of fellow students in the Collinsworth School of Music is the most present and continuous characteristic of the department. From the second you step on campus as a freshman until you pack up your car after graduation, the community is tight knit and selflessly supportive. I met my wife, four of my groomsmen, my best friend, several colleagues, my college mentor, my bluegrass band, and several professors (who are now dear friends) in the CBU music department. The joy of this program is that you are continually surrounded by likeminded people who challenge you and encourage you in your faith, musicianship and academic prowess. The community motif is occurring amidst all the other themes. In the experiences, the community it there. In the faculty and curriculum, the community is there. In the growth of musical expression, communication and performance, the community is there. The theme is meant to represent the constant support and presence of fellow musicians who make the CBU School of Music a place like no other.
I understand that these representations merely scratch the surface of all that CBU has to offer, and I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to express some of my appreciation for all that it contributed to my own life in this musical medium. I certainly wasn’t anything special coming into the School of Music. I was the punk high school student, leading worship because I thought I was cool. I knew how to play bass guitar, drums and about five chords on the guitar and I listened to Dave Matthews Band, U2 and Switchfoot. However, these core values of the School of Music echo through its halls, and students who commit and engage cannot help but be transformed into more capable, creative, and intelligent human beings. I cannot imagine the kind of person I would be had it not been for the dedication of the faculty and staff that surrounded me in my college years. I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Music in Music Composition in May of 2014, and the Lord continues to faithfully grow and refine me. I’m now the Pastor of Worship at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, CA, where my wife Chelsea and I pray that the Lord will use our musical abilities and our passion for His Kingdom in a mighty way.