Don't you just hate it when a jingle or song gets stuck in your head? Perhaps it's only a portion, looping nonstop; maybe it's one verse or even the entire song.
While it might drive you crazy, it means somebody somewhere has done a fantastic job of successfully merging rhythm, melody, harmony and sound. That somebody is a composer.
Kyle Kindred, assistant professor of music and co-coordinator of theory and composition in the Sam Houston State University School of Music, said one of his ongoing challenges is demonstrating that music composition is not fussy, nor do music composers live in the past with Bach and Beethoven.
"They were the Lady Gagas of their time," Kindred said. "But you couldn't just go out and buy the latest album. You had to be in Vienna. When recording technology appeared 100 years ago, it changed the course of music history. The thing that makes composing significant today is that we're always creating new ideas and new kinds of music."
And on that note…
"There's no right or wrong way to teach composition," Kindred said. "That's why I try to keep an open mind when students bring creative ideas to me.”
Indeed. Consider Nathan Mays's unique approach to composition.
The 24-year-old SHSU senior has created a percussion piece inspired by "Magic: The Gathering," a card and dice game similar to “Dungeons and Dragons.” The game involves strategy and skill, and sometimes feels like it will never end—just like music composition.
"It's part of an unfinished, greater work, a cycle of five pieces," Mays said. "I'm a huge nerd; I love games and I love to nerd out over music history."
If any music is steeped in history, it has to be classical. Mays, who loves hard rock music, was introduced to jazz while he was a student at San Jacinto College. After transferring to SHSU, he had to switch instruments from electric bass to double bass, and that's when he began developing the "real, classical playing."
"The more I studied with teachers here, the more I got into the classical side," Mays said. "I started to see how classical playing helps me in my jazz and rock playing."
Upon graduation, Mays would love to play full-time, although realistically, he knows he'll probably have to head for higher education.
He's not alone.
"The first day students come in, I tell them 'if you're looking to graduate with a bachelor's degree in music composition and then go out and get a fulltime job, you need to look for another major,'" Kindred said.
The School of Music has approximately 400 students, of which 80 percent are music education majors and are pretty much assured a job upon graduation, Kindred said.
"The rest of us are in a different boat," he said. "I know wonderful composers who have IT (information technology) jobs and do wonderful work as composers, but it doesn't bring in the money."
While composers can seek work in the commercial world (think film scores and documentaries), many go on to teach, and that requires additional class time.
Thomas Bailey, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Baylor University, is now a graduate student at SHSU.
"A professor at Baylor told me to go to a different school for every degree I get so I can study under as many people as possible," said Bailey, who eventually wants to earn a doctorate. "All of those different voices are beneficial to students."
Bailey is striving for the best of both worlds—he wants to compose and teach, just like Kindred.
"If I can provide even half of what I've been given to the next generation, I win," Bailey said. "I joke with
Dr. Kindred that when he's ready to retire, I'll be there to take his chair."
Kindred is enjoying a very illustrious career so far. The Kansas-born pianist has had his compositions performed in the U.S., Canada,Japan and Europe. He holds degrees from Wichita State and The University of Texas at Austin, where in 2004 he earned his doctorate in musical arts.
Adam Sovkoplas is in the final stages of his doctorate at the University of Kentucky. When he was an undergrad at University of Texas-Brownsville, Sovkoplas' goal was to be a high school band director. But then he got a taste, or more accurately the sound, of composition.
"My first composition won a national contest and a $1,500 scholarship," Sovkoplas said. "I thought 'OK, I'll keep writing then.'"
That's when Sovkoplas applied to SHSU. He graduated in 2006, and now his goal is a faculty position teaching composition at a university.
"My dad thought I should get a degree in piano tuning because it would be more practical than music composition," Sovkoplas said. "But when I explained that I wanted to work as a professor, the whole idea became more exciting and acceptable. My family appreciates the art form of music composition and what it means to have one of your pieces performed."
There's nothing like it, Sovkoplas said, and that's why he's banking on a lifelong career in music.
"This is not an 'I'm going into this to make a lot of money,' thing; it's a creative thing,” Sovkoplas said. “Most people who are successful at writing music do it because they have to—there's something inside of them that just has to come out."