Visit from Composer John Wasson inspires Concordia Wind Orchestra

The Concordia Courier

Known most notably for his work on the movie "Whiplash", John Wasson is a sought after composer and arranger for orchestral music.

By Rebekah Michel | 4/12/2024

As students in the Music Department work diligently to fine tune their craft, they were recently given the opportunity to learn and work alongside a well respected professional in the field, John Wasson. Across the third week of March, composer and arranger Wasson paid a visit to the Music Department and gave a series of masterclasses, clinics and a final concert with the Concordia Wind Orchestra. 

As a sought after composer and arranger, most famously known for his work on the Academy Award Winning film “Whiplash,” Wasson was able to share his knowledge and expertise with the music faculty and students. 

With the Director of Orchestra Activities, Dr. Jeff Held, on a sabbatical for the semester, students in the Concordia Wind Orchestra have been challenged by adapting to new conductors. “There is always an adjustment to working with a new conductor. The instrumentalists must pay closer attention to the style of their conducting because each conductor will try to evoke different musical expressions from a piece. Working with Wasson was different because he composed all of the pieces we performed. He was so kind and welcoming to any questions we had regarding the pieces,” said Ruth Pearson. Pearson is a junior Flute Performance major and has been a part of Concordia Wind Orchestra for three years. 

In addition to rehearsals for the Composer in Residence concert, Wasson shared his professional experience and knowledge to students across the Music Department through his workshops. “As someone who is interested in music composition, I attended both of Wasson’s workshops and learned a lot during the time that I spent there,” said Caleb Vaugn, “He answered all of my questions about composition techniques and shared his methods for coming up with ideas for pieces.” Vaughan is a junior Commercial Music major and is studying composition and jazz piano. 

As Concordia helps to prepare all of their students for professional careers, hands-on learning experiences from guest instructors and speakers is one of the most critical parts of students' education in the Music Department. “Getting to work with a composer is wonderful, but getting to attend masterclasses and lessons throughout an entire week is a special opportunity. The student musicians get to know the composer and understand the background story for their compositions, which in turn helps us perform the music with passion,” said Pearson. 

Wasson’s visit at Concordia ended with the Composer-in-Residence Concert on March 23 in the CU Center. The program was a delight to all who attended and was a highlight for all of the students involved to play under his direction. “Playing in the final concert and seeing everything come together in the end was a magical experience. Seeing the joy that it brought to Mr. Wasson to see his music being performed live was a great feeling,” said Vaughan.

For Pearson, a particular highlight of the program was a new work that was specially  commissioned for the Concordia Wind Orchestra. “My favorite piece in the program that we played was ‘Triumphant Processional Overture’ which was commissioned for CWO. It was fun to hear John Wasson’s incorporation of scripture using imagery of Christ’s coming. As the piece continues, a musical theme interweaves as it is passed to each section of the orchestra,” said Pearson. 

Wasson’s faith and pairing of music alongside scripture was shared throughout his visit at Concordia, adding another element of meaning to his time that was spent with the students. “It is inspiring to hear how he incorporates his faith in his music through the use of scripture and hymns in his works,” said Pearson.

Serving as an example of how Concordia demonstrates excellence in education, Wasson’s visit to the Music Department provided inspiration, meaningful insight and a performance experience for all students that will benefit their education and better equip them for their future musical endeavors. 

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