Student Spotlight: Harmony Project Phoenix's original composition
High school junior Siara (16) received the opportunity of a lifetime when Harmony Project Phoenix asked her to compose a piece for their upcoming concert.
“It was very intimidating,” Siara said. “First of all, you’re being very selfish when you’re writing a piece because you like all of these different aspects, but somebody else who’s playing it might not. I wanted to make everyone happy, but I knew I couldn’t do that.”
This was her first time composing a piece and collaborating with ASU doctorate student Zach Bush, who received a grant from ASU’s Changemaker Central to put together the Harmony in Chamber Music Concert. Siara said it was interesting to write music for instruments that she’d never played before, as it was challenging to gauge what was hard or easy.
Growing up, Siara said she always wanted to play the violin or piano because she thought they were such pretty instruments, and she wanted to be that person who could bring the melodic sounds to anyone who heard her perform. During her freshman year at Tempe High, she joined the school’s orchestra program, taking on the violin for the first time.
In her sophomore year, Siara had harder classes to complete and was debating whether to stick with playing the violin because of its level of difficulty and lack of help outside of the classroom. When discussing this with her orchestra teacher, they recommended Harmony Project Phoenix as an additional resource, which is how she originally got involved with the project.
“Honestly, I think it really did help me become a better musician because I’m more confident playing now, which is something I’ve never felt before,” Siara said.
The one-on-one attention allowed Siara the help she needed to thrive as a violinist and take her musicianship to the next level.
“I feel like because I didn’t know how to play well, having somebody there who really did correct my mistakes and tell me what to do made me a better player,” she said. “Having that kind of attention and someone guiding me and answering all of my questions is great.”
When the time came to sit down and compose the piece, Siara originally honed-in on the string instruments, as that was what she was most familiar with. When collaborating with Zach, however, Siara allowed herself to take a step back and evaluate how all of the instruments were going to sound together. The trumpet part ended up being her favorite.
“It was nice because I’d never heard some of these instruments before, and when I wrote the pieces for them, I didn’t know how it was going to sound,” she said. “But I realized everything fit well together.”
The two met every Friday to delve into their work and only had about a month to complete the piece.
“It wasn’t a lot of time, but there was definitely a lot of time put into it,” Siara said.
The piece, titled “Go with the Flow,” was originally inspired by competitive swim, something Siara participates in at school.
“Swimming competitively is very hard,” she said. “There’s four different strokes to work with, and in the piece, you can hear different sections that reflect that. One section would be very fast, and that would be like freestyle. Then backstroke would be like freestyle, but backwards and inverted. And fly — which was probably my favorite because it’s also my favorite stroke — was slower.”
The finished product debuted as the finale to wrap up the concert, where ASU music students and Harmony Project students shared the stage as one orchestra. Siara said the students were very supportive of her piece and enjoyed performing it.
“I was very scared because it was my baby, and I put it out for the world to hear,” she said. “It was something that you did by yourself and then all of a sudden it became this collaborative thing, which was really cool.”
Following her debut into the composer world, Siara said she is unsure of what lies ahead for her, but knows that music will always be something she cherishes.
“I have a lot of paths to see what I like and what I don’t, and I wouldn’t be opposed to composing more pieces in the future.”