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"Wind Sculpture (SG) I" Inspires Original, Student-Created Music

"Wind Sculpture (SG) I" by artist Yinka Shonibare
Wind Sculpture (SG) I by artist Yinka Shonibare

After 28 hectic hours in New York City, Amelia Willingham '19, Isaac Mervis '19 and Cal Freundlich '20 settled into a well-appointed digital music lab in the basement of Sloan Music Center to listen, share ideas and formulate a plan. Their charge: create an original piece of music inspired by the vibrant Wind Sculpture (SG) I, the latest acquisition in the college's outdoor sculpture collection.

The three, all students in Prof. Jennifer Stasack's "Advanced Composition" course, made a site visit to Central Park during fall break to see the 23-foot-tall sculpture up close before it was carefully wrapped and loaded onto a flatbed truck for the more than 600-mile journey to its permanent home on the Davidson campus.

A composer by training, Stasack created a special piece for the dedication of The Group of Ten by Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz, but said the student collaboration is a first for the college.

The opportunity presents an interesting challenge and could be practical preparation for students who pursue careers in the music industry today.

"It's the norm right now in popular musics to have multiple writers on a song," Stasack said. "We're not talking about just three or four songwriters—often times there are more than 10 collaborators. It's kind of exciting to bring that process into the academy."

Getting Started

When the group met in Central Park under the shadow of the sweeping sculpture, greetings gave way to quiet contemplation, note taking and finally discussion of their impressions.

"What was interesting is it was totally different," Freundlich said. "There was very little overlap in what we were noticing. Since then we've put our own ideas down without collaboration."

The students crafted "sketches," or initial pieces born of their reactions to the sculpture, that they played for each other in the Sloan Music Center digital lab.

A plaintive bassoon solo, woodwinds swirling into a calliope of sound, dense strings, beats that call to mind footfalls on a city sidewalk, the crescendo of instruments building to hurricane-like intensity—the differences, and commonalities, among the pieces ignited conversation. The student composers agreed—all of the pieces evoked wind.

The session ended with excitement and uncertainty.

"When things are really comfortable, there's a certain amount of growth or expansion that happens," Stasack said. "But when things are scary, and you're outside a comfort zone, or there are unknowns, there's the potential for a more rich discovery because you're going to have to solve problems that you're not expecting to solve."

The students' piece will debut at the Nov. 14 dedication of Wind Sculpture (SG) I. Listen to the final piece on SoundCloud.

Additional Coverage

Time-Lapse Video: Installation of Wind Sculpture (SG) I by Yinka Shonibare
Lifelong Devotion to Public Art: Yinka Shonibare Sculpture to Debut in NYC on Way to Davidson

Lisa Patterson
lipatterson@davidson.edu