Student Composer Debuts Original Compositions in Recent Concerts
Matthew Kimbley has been writing music since he was a bored 6-year-old sitting in the back of a church board meeting composing simple pieces in his piano workbook. He’s come a long way since then, growing to love music and composition, choosing to major in music theory and literature at Southern Adventist University, and composing original pieces for Southern’s Symphony Orchestra and Wind Symphony to perform.
His composition experience is extensive, having written a number of hymn arrangements for string ensembles as well as solo piano pieces. As a junior at Southern this year, he now adds an overture for the Symphony Orchestra and a tone poem for the Wind Symphony to his repertoire.
The compositions for the Symphony Orchestra and Wind Symphony are the first pieces he has attempted at this scale. Kimbley composed a piece entitled “Atlantic Overture” for the Symphony Orchestra. As is typical with most of his pieces, he drew inspiration from nature. “I visited the Atlantic coast a lot this year, and a lot of my inspiration as a composer comes from nature, especially water.” He explains that many of the melodies are inspired by the rocky Maine coast and Florida beaches. “Sometimes I’d hear a little birdcall, and it would give me an idea for a much more expanded melody that I could do.”
For the Wind Symphony, he composed a piece entitled “The Pursuit of Happiness.” The piece illustrates the journey of someone who’s looking for happiness in all the wrong places, eventually finding happiness in Christ. Kimbley says, “That one took me a little bit more work because it wasn’t as directly inspired [by personal experience].”
Kimbley studies others’ music as well. “My biggest inspirations are probably Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.” Kimbley also mentions Mendelssohn and explains, “I try to study scores of composers as much as possible.” His studies allow him to find new techniques to experiment with.
Armed with these tools, Kimbley wrangles the melodies and harmonies together into a cohesive piece. “The composing is easy once I get the idea,” according to Kimbley. He amends, “Well, mostly easy.” He addresses questions such as “if I put the melody in the oboe here, am I going hear it over the trombones blasting?” Overall, he explains, “I’ve been able to learn a lot about orchestration, which is the process of writing for a larger ensemble.”
Even after Kimbley finished writing “Atlantic Overture” and “The Pursuit of Happiness,” he still had more work to do. Last year, he reached out to Laurie Redmer Cadwallader and Ken Parsons, the Symphony Orchestra and Wind Symphony conductors, respectively, about performing his pieces. Both conductors were happy to incorporate his music into this year’s concerts.
Kimbley is the first student to conduct his own piece for the Symphony Orchestra, which he describes as “a lot of fun, but a bit terrifying as well.” In addition, his piece will be the first student composition that the Wind Symphony has ever played. Throughout the process, Kimbley says Cadwallader and Parsons have been extremely supportive—giving tips, advice, and encouragement as he navigates the new experience.
Kimbley says practicing the orchestra piece was a learning experience. “The piece is hard, I’ll put it that way. So, the first time I heard it, it sounded like a disaster.” Though he worried the piece wouldn’t work the way he had envisioned it, things eventually came together.
Cadwallader explains some of the difficulties Kimbley faced. “One of the challenges of being an inexperienced conductor is that often you don’t know what to listen for,” she says. “I’ve been very pleased with the development of the sound of the orchestra.”
Kimbley plans to pursue music composition in graduate school and intends to keep God at the center of his life and his art. He explains, “God is my biggest inspiration.” Through his compositions, he wants “to be an effective witness to those around me so that they’ll be uplifted to God.”
“Atlantic Overture” was performed on November 5. “The Pursuit of Happiness” was performed at the Christmas Concert on December 2. To watch past performances in our video archive and learn about upcoming performances, visit southern.edu/events.
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