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Carolina Performing Arts, UNC music department collaborate for Compose Carolina series

The Department of Music hosted the Spectrum Concert on February 2, 2019, at Moeser Auditorium in Hill Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The concert was held to celebrate the 100th birthday of the department. Photo courtesy of Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill.

Carolina Performing Arts, in collaboration with the UNC Department of Music, will host its second annual Compose Carolina series in July, which will virtually showcase the work of UNC community members.

The series will consist of four sessions, each debuting original music scores written by UNC students or alumni with varying genres and style. The sessions will also include interspersed conversations and Q&A sessions with the artists, which will be moderated by a faculty member from the music department.

Three alumni composers are participating in the series as well as a group of undergraduate student composers and musicians, Cat Zachary, the communications coordinator for the UNC Department of Music, said.

The theme of the series is “In The Now,” which the composers are encouraged to interpret freely.

Zachary said due to the isolation that resulted from the pandemic, much creativity has emerged over the past year, and the compositions in the series will show how people have grown and how their view of the world has changed.

She also said Compose Carolina is an excellent opportunity for student composers to gain experience with a broader audience since the undergraduate program has only a dozen students.

“It’s really important for us to highlight the work that our students are doing,” Zachary said. “To give them this bigger platform online where they can really show off what they’re doing, it’s really such a fantastic opportunity.”

Alex McKeveny, a rising senior majoring in music and business administration and a Compose Carolina artist, said a professor reached out to him about participating in the series, and he was intrigued by the concept.

McKeveny also said he is used to the virtual format of the series since he participated last year, but the flow of the conversation is more difficult online. 

UNC graduate Stewart Engart, another Compose Carolina participant, said the online format presents some benefits, which he noticed through being part of other virtual performances during the pandemic.

Engart said he was able to meet people who were fans of his work at a previous performance, and he then listened to their music and established a connection in a way made possible by online communication.

The downside to virtual concerts, he said, is the lack of gratification after a performance.

“It’s interesting because your piece finishes, and you worked on it for hundreds of hours, and then there’s an emoji in the chat, and that’s the response to your piece,” Engart said.

But he said he is excited about the upcoming series because he looks forward to meeting new people and reestablishing ties to the UNC community. 

He also said he is honored to be on the same stage as the two other alumni composers, Cristina “Trinity” Vélez-Justo and Alex Van Gils, because he looked up to them during his time at UNC.

Jess Abel, the marketing and communications manager at Carolina Performing Arts, said this series uniquely enables the audience to get to know the background and inner workings of the music.

She said that after each performance, audience members can ask the artist questions and listen to a professor who is knowledgeable on the subject provide commentary on the piece.

“It allows us to see the process unfold very organically, and it also allows the audience a very close seat into what the artist is thinking,” Abel said. “Immediately after the debut of the piece, you can interact, which is new for us in the virtual realm.”


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