Our Favorite Compositions

As students embark on their composition projects this spring, our teaching artists are sharing more about their own musical inspirations. Read through to learn about some of our teaching artists’ favorite compositions and composers.

Serena Voltz: Joe Hisaishi, “The Legend of Ashitaka”

Serena’s favorite composer is Joe Hisaishi, known for his remarkable contributions to the world of music, particularly through his captivating compositions for Studio Ghibli soundtracks. Among Hisaishi’s vast repertoire, “The Legend of Ashitaka” holds a special place in her heart.

Serena (center) performs with Trombone Teaching Artist Corey Sansolo and Chicago horn teacher Abby Black

As a SLAM teacher, Serena highly recommends listening to Hisaishi’s music, even for those who haven’t seen the associated movies. She emphasizes Hisaishi’s exceptional ability to weave compelling narratives and evoke profound emotions through his music, making it a rewarding experience for all listeners.

Henry Sparks: “Blood Count” by Billy Strayhorn

Henry’s favorite composition is “Blood Count” by Billy Strayhorn. He admires Strayhorn not only for his musical talent but also for his courage as an openly queer man of color during a time when America and the jazz age were still deeply segregated. “Blood Count” holds a special place in Henry’s heart as it was written during Strayhorn’s battle with cancer, showcasing his resilience and creativity even in the face of adversity.

Henry works with trombone student at Uptown Academy

Strayhorn’s untimely death adds to the poignancy of his legacy, as he is considered an unsung hero and composer in the jazz world. Henry believes that there is a lack of visibility for black and queer composers, especially those who have passed away, and he holds Strayhorn as one of his all-time favorite composers for authentically expressing his identity through his music.

Allison Rye: 10th movement from Esperanza Spalding's "Formwela" album

Allison’s favorite composition is the 10th movement from Esperanza Spalding‘s “Formwela” album. While she appreciates the entire album, this specific piece holds a special place in her heart. Its departure from traditional jazz routines allows Spalding to freely express her creativity in her home studio.

Allison (front) performs with Harp Teaching Artist Ellie Kirk at outdoor recital during summer of 2023

What resonates with Allison is the album’s creation during the  pandemic when opportunities seemed scarce. Despite these difficulties, Spalding’s ability to produce such a beautiful piece is a testament to her resilience and creativity. Esperanza Spalding’s “Formwela” album serves as a reminder of the power of art to uplift and inspire, even in the face of adversity.

Dan Hickey: Max Richter

Dan’s favorite piece is Max Richter‘s reinterpretation of Vivaldi’s violin concerto in a minimalist style. This innovative approach serves as a great reminder that even Baroque music can feel contemporary and dynamic. Richter’s use of electronics adds a modern twist to older compositions, breathing new life into them and challenging the notion that classical music is static and closed.

For Dan, witnessing this reinterpretation was a revelation, as he hadn’t realized that such bold artistic choices were possible. The expressive playing and re-writing of the concerto take it to a new level, showcasing Richter’s creativity and his ability to make classical music accessible and exciting for contemporary audiences.

Emily Munn-Wood: Beethoven's Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109

Emily’s favorite piece is Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109, particularly the rendition performed by Richard Goode. She first encountered this masterpiece at a live concert, where she was captivated by Goode’s interpretation. Hearing it both live and as a recording left a lasting impression, prompting her to seek out the album online and purchase it.

Emily (left) performs a duet with her cello student at Uptown Academy Recital

Goode’s performance, encompassing Beethoven’s late sonatas, resonated deeply with her, leading to a profound appreciation for Sonata No. 30 in E major and inspiring her to make it a cherished part of her musical collection.

Istvan Loga: Vaughan Williams “Fantasia on a Theme”

Istvan’s favorite piece by Vaughan Williams is the “Fantasia on a Theme” for string orchestra. This mesmerizing composition allows each section of the string ensemble – first violin, second violin, viola, and bass – to showcase solo passages, creating a dreamy and fantastical atmosphere. The music evokes a sense of admiration akin to cautiously navigating through a cherished but distant landscape, imbued with deep emotion and passion. 

Istvan (left)coaches the SLAM String Quintet in their rehearsal

It is one of the most rewarding and memorable pieces Istvan has ever performed, with Vaughan Williams’ grounded yet captivating style adding to its allure.

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