Hedges plays music and composes it, too

May 5, 2014 | 11 a.m.

Music of award-winning student composer recognized country-wide

Culture | Abby Stocker for The Clarion

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Junior Jared Hedges recently won the John Kenneth Cole Composition Prize, a national award that recognizes "young creative talent in the field of modern musical composition." | Photo for The Clarion by Drea Chalmers

The first time Jared Hedges wrote and performed a composition in public was five, maybe six years ago. His piece for piano must have been a success with the listeners at his home church, because they asked him to compose the music for their Christmas services for the next few years.

Flash forward to Hedges' junior year of college, when a group of Bethel instrumentalists and vocalists performed three of Hedges' original pieces at his junior recital on April 22. It's a step up, but these days, he's thinking even bigger—nationally-advertised, competition-winning big.

Hedges, a junior music composition and English literature major, recently won the John Kenneth Cole Composition Prize, a national composition award recognizing "young creative talent in the field of modern musical composition."  The prize is selected and awarded by the musicians and conductor of the Portland-based Oregon Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra and aims to encourage young composers of orchestral chamber music.

"What made Jared's work stand out was the musical maturity that it displayed," said Dr. Jeff Sprecht, music director and conductor of the Oregon Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra. "Young composers too often do several things. They use as many instruments as they can fit into a work, and they use so many modern compositional techniques that the work becomes full of gratuitous dissonance turning the work into an assault on the ears...What really impressed me was the way in which [Hedges’] work seemed to express a lot musically with the least amount of musical notation."

And if all goes according to plan, Hedges will be in attendance when the Oregon Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra performs his "Meditation Upon the 88th Psalm" at its world premiere on May 17. The work, written for a group of 20-30 violins, violas, cellos and basses, wasn't originally based on the psalm but seemed to fit.

Sprecht agreed with Hedges’ vision. "The work evokes a mood reminiscent of the 88th Psalm...by using a dissonant accompaniment with the recurring theme that the resolution remains unsettled. The work keeps the listener on edge, awaiting a final resolution that eventually comes, but it appears only conditional."

 "Hearing something that you've written is a very unique experience," said Hedges, noting that commissions to compose for the choir at his home church played a "huge part" in helping his work gain a public presence. "The performance is a prize in and of itself."

As a composer, Hedges noted, most pieces are written on commission for a particular group or occasion. Still, with most early "performances" limited to computerized instrumentation, he said ultimately, "you're creating a map for the performer or musician who will perform it...it's hard to let go of what's written down on the page."

Long term, Hedges hopes to study composition at the graduate level. In the meantime, he's been busy organizing his junior recital—a half-hour showcase of the music he's written in the past year.

The program, which includes a piano piece in three movements, a choral piece based on a text by Christina Rossetti and a song cycle based on the investigative journalism of Nellie Bly, will be a chance to view Hedges' compositional strengths over a wide range of pieces.

"You start to see that sense of style," said Jon Veenker, Hedges’ composition professor. "We spend so much time looking at very individual pieces at very close detail, but it's not often that we get to step back."

"I'm never sure how to respond when people ask what style you write in," Hedges admitted. "As a composer, you hope people will say you write in a Jared Hedges style, [that] you have a distinctive voice in the way that truly great composers have."

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