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Austin Percussion Trio Debuts Student Compositions

Nathan Cone
Texas Public Radio
Austin-based percussion trio, line upon line.

The way Mikael Baisch tells it, he was already a performer and then, “I kind of just woke up one morning and said I’m going to write music.”

Baisch was honored along with Connie Weir and Melissa Wang at the tenth annual Jack Stone Award for New Music competition and concert. His piece, “ClockWork,” was awarded second runner up in the nationwide competition. Connor Weir took the first runner up position for “The Square,” and Melissa Wang was awarded first place for “Downright Up and Left.”

The Jack Stone Award for New Music competition is a nationwide competition exclusively for community college students, and is held annually on the campus of Northwest Vista College, part of the Alamo Colleges District.

Wang was prompted to begin composing by her theory professor, and Weir says he was inspired to begin writing on his own after hearing Hans Zimmer’s score for “Gladiator.” “The whole experience of the movie really moved me,” he explains. Shortly after that, Weir began writing a concerto for trumpet.

All three young composers also cross over from jazz to classical, but the Jack Stone Award for New Music offers a unique challenge; you must write music for a specific ensemble each year. This year’s featured group was line upon line, a percussion trio from Austin.

Weir says to get ideas, he sought out the group’s videos online.

“I looked at what they were doing, and then after that it was just kind of a lot of experimentation.”

Weir’s piece "The Square" combines mallet instruments and liberal use of the timpani, an uncommon instrument in small group performance that the members of line upon line seemed excited to pursue in concert. Baisch's composition "ClockWork" uses a repetitive pattern to mimic the gears of an enormous clock. Wang's "Downright Up and Left" combines mallet instruments and trap set. The variety of sounds led to an enormous battery of instruments spread out on stage at Northwest Vista College's Palmetto Center for the Arts. Despite the challenges it presented (not least of which toward the radio recording staff!), it was fascinating to watch as line upon line moved about on stage, eyeing each other for musical cues.

All three of the young composers featured at the competition write on the computer, but for Melissa Wang, who’s a percussionist herself, line upon line’s performance wasn’t the first time she was able to hear the piece live, and she remarked that enjoyed both interpretations, each of which was a little different. Wang plans to continue studying music education.

All three were grateful to Northwest Vista College for the opportunity to connect, learn more about composition and performance through a master class with line upon line… but maybe the best thing? Wang, in a press release from the College of DuPage where she studies, was thankful for weather that was on average 40 degrees warmer than it was back home in Illinois!

Hear all three performances in the player below, and additional music from line upon line on “Performance Saturday,” airing Saturday, April 13 at 7:00 p.m. on KPAC 88.3 FM and KTXI 90.1 FM.