||Owensboro Symphony to perform young alum's orchestra work
RELEASED: September 17, 2009
By Leigh Ivey
DANVILLE, KY— Centre College alum Nick Drake '01 isn't one to let obstacles stand in his way.
Despite a vision impairment that renders him legally blind, Drake has always been passionate about composing music. Over the past decade, he has written numerous musical scores for chamber ensembles, orchestra and electronic media. And on September 26, his piece "Gambado Fanfare" will be performed by the Owensboro Symphony in Owensboro, Ky.
The piece was composed while Drake was a graduate student at the University of Louisville, where he earned a Master of Music degree in composition.
"This was my first piece for full orchestra," Drake says, "and it was under scrutiny because it was one of my grad school projects, so I wanted to get it right! It's designed as a concert opener, something to really get your ears ready for the rest of the concert."
After "Gambado Fanfare" was performed at the university's annual New Music Festival in the fall of 2006, Steve Rouse, a member of the composition faculty, suggested that Drake send it to the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra.
"With a nice recommendation from Rouse," Drake says, "I sent the piece to the conductor of the OSO, Nicholas Palmer, and he contacted me in the Spring of 2009 to let me know he wanted to use it to kick off the concert season. This is quite an honor and a highlight for me as a composer thus far."
"Orchestras like the Owensboro Symphony don't typically play new music," says Dr. Larry Bitensky, Centre College Associate Professor of Music. "So for them to program a work by a young composer like Nick is a very real accomplishment and testament to his talent as a composer."
Bitensky was introduced to Drake's musical talents during his first term of teaching at Centre. At that time, Drake was a music minor with an emphasis on piano.
"Due to his vision impairment," Bitensky says, "he was unable to learn to play music the traditional way—that is, by reading music. Rather, he learned by listening to recordings and working through passages in a slow and laborious way that would tax many people's patience."
In his music theory class, Bitensky often emphasizes music composition, and he remembers that "Nick very quickly got the bug. We began lessons together, and with the help of computer software and magnification, he began to produce scores of greater and greater degrees of sophistication."
In fact, his experiences as a music minor at Centre shaped his current music career in almost every way.
"I absolutely loved my time studying with Larry Bitensky," Drake says. "He had a way of bringing out the best in my musical voice and musical craftsmanship that I'll always remember."
After graduating from Centre with a major in philosophy and minor in music, Drake would return home from his work in the public schools of Tempe, Ariz., and compose music—almost every day, Bitensky says. "He showed a dedication that really is quite rare. Considering he's handicapped by not being able to see his scores the way most composers can, his dedication is even more remarkable."
Drake's job with the public school system in Tempe not only enables him to use his skills in working with special education students but to escape the possibility of losing his passion for composing music.
"I've found that doing something other than music as a job has always kept music fresh for me," he says. "I believe I'd get burnt out if I was a professor of music. This way, I'm free to do pretty much whatever I want musically, without the confines of assignments or a degree process. I've always enjoyed working with youth, so the schools have been a good fit for me."
Drake also enjoys writing music for young learners or amateur musicians. In an ongoing project, he is composing a series of "piano pedagogy pieces" for beginning piano players, and he and his wife, Carrie Leigh Page, are currently working on several pieces for the middle school chorus.
Because he is able to able to compose the music he wants, when he wants, Drake has written and arranged many well-received pieces. Among the places his music has been performed are University of Louisville, Earsight, Electronic Music Midwest, and the Society of Composers, Inc. National Conference.
And his future is only getting brighter. "Nick is a charming individual with a great sense of humor," Bitensky says, "and his work continues to grow."
Recently, Drake has been receiving attention for an electronic piece that incorporates the sounds of an antique Maytag washing machine. "I actually collaborated with Brad Mallory, another '01 graduate, to create that," he says. "Electronic music is a whole different world than writing for acoustic instruments. For me, it's still rather new, but I love the range and scope of possibility offered with electronic music."
Whether composing music for chamber ensembles, electronics or orchestras, Drake enjoys everything about music. What he finds most rewarding about the process, he believes, is how "superb it is to hear your music come to life in the hands of a performer who handles the technical hurdles of a piece while letting his or her own voice come across."
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
For news archives go to http://www.centre.edu/web/news/newsarchive.html.
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