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ECU Student Composers Create New DEJ Theme Music

Cliff Hollis, ECU News Services

Public Radio East collaborates with students at East Carolina University’s School of Music to change the way Down East Journal sounds.

Music is an integral part to different forms of media and entertainment today, from video games, to commercials, and movie soundtracks.  These irresistible pieces of music were imagined, scored, recorded, and produced before they ever reached our ears.  Today, on the Down East Journal, we delve into the creative process of music composition with help from East Carolina University in Greenville.  They currently have 10 students pursuing a major in the field. Professor of Composition Edward Jacobs says students come into the program with a variety of hands on experience.

“we have students who play in rock bands, we have students who play in high school bands, we have students who primarily sing in choirs and do high school musicals.”

Jacobs says composition classes expose students to musical styles, music theory, history and instrumentation.  Students also have the opportunity to write their own music, and eventually hear it performed.

Credit Cliff Hollis, ECU News Services

  “The primary means of learning new techniques is using the literature, listening, listening a lot to different ways composers throughout the ages, and styles, idioms and cultures have begun to explore musical expression. And then slowly but surely, we begin to work on very technical exercises taking small musical ideas say the opening four notes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony as an example and learning how to expand, modify, and fundamentally alter and bring new perspective to small musical ideas that then blossom into larger pieces.”

Each year, student graduates from the composition program go on to use their skills creating music for video games or for film.

“Some will work on the concert stage that is to say they will work with other performing musicians and write music for those ensembles, they might write music for the theater. They might create small operas or chamber music, string quartets.  They may write for rock bands or jazz bands.  Or many will go on for further study and some will go on to teach, just as I do.”   

A notable composer who studied at East Carolina University is Velton Ray Bunch, an Emmy winner film and television composer originally from Goldsboro.  He’s composed music for Walker, Texas Ranger, Star Trek Enterprise, Magnum P.I., Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and most recently the TV movie, Silent Witness. 

Credit Cliff Hollis, ECU News Services

The composition students at ECU aspire to create music that will be just as widely received.  To give the current students an opportunity to hone their skills, Public Radio East and ECU’s Department of Theory, Composition and Musicology teamed up for a special project to give a new sound to the Down East Journal.  Jacobs says the project simulates a real client-composer relationship.

“This process, the Down East Journal theme, came about in much the same way that any commission does.  You, the person that is most involved with the creation of this program came to me and said I’m interested in some music, how do you think we might go about this?”

Last fall, I gave a presentation to students about Down East Journal and offered some ideas for a new theme music.  With commissioned work, specific guidelines were given for the composers to adhere to.  But in order for creative expression, instrumentation and style was left up to each student.

Credit Cliff Hollis, ECU News Services

The next for the students was to start forming ideas.  Much like an artist makes a sketch before painting on canvas, composers use synthesizes and computer programs like Garage Band and Pro Tools to express their ideas.  Isaac Ward is a rising sophomore. 

“The main guitar line, I had that for a while, I just didn’t know what to do with it. And then this opportunity came up and I was like, I got to go with that. I had the thought of adding the weird meter in and I was trying to think of the best way to do that without sounding too unusual but still obviously kind of not typical.”

In all, five composition students submitted a sample idea for a Down East Journal theme.  Each idea was unique; with different instrumentation, style, and tempo.  Some were submitted as midi files or recorded on a synthesizer, others were produced with a microphone and laptop.

Credit Cliff Hollis, ECU News Services

  Joshua Tomlinson was in his final year of a Master's degree when we was involved in this project.  He’s now preparing to begin a doctoral program at the University of Oklahoma.  He recorded his submission with Justin Lindley. 

“While I was setting up the recording equipment, Justin was playing I think he was playing guitar and I really like the chord progression he was playing.”

For some, inspiration comes unexpectedly.  But for others, ideas are carefully formed and thought out.

What I kind of wanted to go for is an older-ish rock band based on 12-bar blues.  I just really wanted to have fun with it.”

That’s Myles Travitz, a rising senior.  All five themes were settled upon, but only three really captured the essence of the Down East Journal.  As the commissioner of the project, it was my job to listen to all of the ideas and make suggestions on how to improve the product.

Credit Cliff Hollis, ECU News Services

  “JB: You know, some of those melody lines, they sounded like a synthesizer, so I’m wondering what types of instruments you’re going to be bringing in to create those sounds for the Down East Journal theme?  MT: what I had in mind was drum set and bass, an acoustic lead guitar, and also a background acoustic guitar for the chords.”

Since every submission was different, I had to work with each composer one-on-one to identify which worked and which parts needed altering. 

“JB: The fade out at the end of the song, it starts at 55 seconds, I was wondering if we could make the fade out not so long?  MT: yeah, I’m open to how ever it needs to end. There’s definitely more room for adding.  JB: okay.”

Professor Jacobs says the students benefit from critique because it’s a necessary part of the process in satisfying the client.

“A composer who wants to work a second time as opposed to getting their first job needs to be able to productively hear the critique and take it and make lemonade out of it, make something good out of whatever the client likes.  And there’s a thrill at trying to please the client with the thing you feel passionate about, the musical idea.”

Credit Cliff Hollis, ECU News Services

This spring, the student composers and musicians spent hours in the recording studio laying down tracks for final mix.  They used traditional instruments such as banjos, mandolins, drums, and guitars and not so traditional instruments like the glockenspiel.

”This really has been a great opportunity for our students and for our program to add an interesting component that we haven’t had otherwise, that is writing for radio in this case, and I just have to thank you. I just have to thank you so much for coming to us, and working with our students in this way, and I think in the results that you hear, and your audience will hear, you can hear the thrill I mean you can hear that the students just loved making this stuff.”

So which one do you like best?  The final step to the process is now in your hands.  We’re asking you to make a choice by selecting one of the final three submissions as the new Down East Journal theme.  Go to our website, publicradioeast.org, listen to each submission in its entirety and vote now through July 11th.  A winner will be announced July 12th during Down East Journal.  So vote today at publicradioeast.org and spread the word!



Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.