Student composers make debut performances at UT

Elizabeth Williams

Eager young composers at UT are given the chance to have their music heard through the Collective Labors of the UT Composition Hub, or CLUTCH. CLUTCH is a student organization that presents concert series of new music composed exclusively by undergraduate and graduate student composers. Formed in 2009 to replace the Butler School of Music’s student music concert series Wet Ink, CLUTCH is now in its third year of operation.

“The music culture here is just so alive,” Brandon Scott Rumsey, a first-year master’s student in composition and CLUTCH spokesperson, said. “Everybody’s doing something and everybody’s very supportive.”

The collective’s first concert of the year on Oct. 8 presented an eclectic mix of musical styles and instrumentations side by side that ranged from Incan folk songs to a solo played on the strings inside a piano. The concerts present both undergraduate and graduate student pieces that not only span musical genres but offer a glimpse of students at different stages within the composition and music studios. 

Jenna Wright, a second-year undergrad studying percussion performance and music composition and junior treasurer for the collective, premiered a piece through CLUTCH for the first time Oct. 8. 

“It’s the coolest feeling in the world as a composer to hear one of your pieces take life,” Wright said. “It’s also really interesting hearing what the other composers are putting together, because everyone comes from different backgrounds. They have different styles.” 

CLUTCH focuses on fostering relationships between students and premiering their work to audiences. 

“We are proud to maintain a sense of camaraderie, mutual support and shared purpose amongst the composition students here,” professor and faculty overseer for CLUTCH Yevgeniy Sharlat said. “This is not always the case in other composition programs around the country. If CLUTCH were administered entirely by the faculty, the series would become yet another academic requirement one fulfills by working like a hermit, in isolation from one’s peers.”

The collective is distinct because it is not required for all of UT’s composition students. Students join voluntarily and work together to produce concerts held twice a semester. Students can submit pieces to be chosen for the concert series. When a piece of music is chosen, the student composer is responsible for assembling a group of performers, organizing rehearsals and doing publicity for the premiere. 

While the students feel the responsibility of individually readying their pieces for performance and collectively organizing the entire concert, the environment created by CLUTCH is positive and encouraging. Students are given a concert series entirely devoted to their work rather than having to struggle against one another for a handful of chances to have their works premiered at the music school’s concerts throughout the year.

For students like Rumsey, CLUTCH is providing these young composers with the skills they need to be successful beyond college and into their careers.

“What’s great about this collective here is that it’s not a bunch of composers competing against each other,” Rumsey said. “We’re all trying to get our music performed for each other, and we’re promoting our music as a whole.”