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Bringing Creative Visions to Life: Project 21 Fosters Original Work - 2024

by Brooklyn Brumley

Group of students and professor
Project 21 student composers this year see their efforts pay off.

Every Friday in a rehearsal room at noon, Project 21, a group of composers, meets to bounce off their new ideas with one another, practice new pieces and play around with new sounds. With at least four shows a semester, the artists are always workshopping their pieces and bringing their ideas to life. It is a student-based organization involving music and composition in the Bass School of Music.

“It is completely student-run, and it’s a chance to explore,” said the president of Project 21 and senior music composition major Kiegan Ryan. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a composition major or not. Anybody is welcome to attend or participate in our concerts as long as they are students and it’s just a place for us to work with other collegiate musicians, composers and artists in any field. It’s all about collaboration. It’s about working together, either in conventional or in divergent and experimental ways. And it’s just a place for artists to come together and build their own voice through their study and their way through music.”

Before OCU hired him, Ed Knight, professor of music and composer-in-residence, dreamed of mentoring a tight-knit group of student composers. That dream came true when OCU hired him as composer-in-residence in 1997 and Project 21 was born. Since then, enrollment in the composition program has more than tripled.

Students who are part of Project 21 gain many connections useful after they graduate. Throughout their years at OCU, members work with dance, theatre, marketing, film, game development and many other departments and people. “It’s incredibly important for composers to be collaborative,” Knight said. “Whether you’re writing concert music, commercial music or anything else, composers have to work with performers, audio engineers, stage directors, conductors, choreographers and fellow composers.” Knight also encourages students to work on commercial projects as a team. “Working as a team on projects allows one to learn how to work without letting your ego get in the way and without getting hurt feelings,” he said. “This is a crucial skill to learn as a student.”

In the spring semester, Project 21 joins forces with the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment. Dance students choreograph pieces to help bring the music to life. This process teaches students “collaboration, compromise and communication,” according to dance professor Tiffany van der Merwe. “To match up the chorographers with composers, they go through a sort of speed dating,” van der Merwe said. “The chorographers will explain their vision and style to the composers, and then the composer will pick whose vision matches theirs the best. After that, the chorographers select their dancers, and they get to work.” Because Project 21 is student-led, everyone in the program is exposed to all of the steps of an entire show.

Danielle Thomsen ’23 served as the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment and Wanda L. Bass School of Music student liaison for Project 21. She worked closely with van der Merwe; Michael McCarthy, assistant professor of dance; and Clint Williams, adjunct instructor of composition; along with her assistant, Kelsey Byrd, to help be the backbone of the entire production. “In general, my work revolved around ensuring that both composers and choreographers were able to accurately express their creative visions in the given performance format while adhering to guidelines set in place by administrative bodies,” Thomsen said.

Project 21 has been able to show students how much they are capable of doing. “Project 21 is a wonderful way to expand one’s artistic horizons,” Thomsen said. “Whether you’re a budding choreographer, a passionate dancer or a marvelous composer, Project 21 offers an opportunity to create collaborative art with unconditional support. Project 21 gives participants a sense of ownership over their work and creative process, which so many students desire during college.”

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