Noah Tan ’21 gives new meaning to the term “fiddling around.”
He plays the violin. He writes music for the instrument. And now he has won an award from the Indiana Music Educators Association for the first movement of his Violin Concerto.
He worked on the composition last spring, reworking another piece he was “fiddling around with” for a full orchestra. “I originally was working on a piece for the violin and full orchestra,” Tan, a Batten Scholar from Marshall, Mich., said.
But he decided to enter another composition in the competition’s full orchestra category, so Tan decided to strip everything but the violin and piano out of his prize-winning piece. He uses a special music composition software that allows him to write the music for each instrument and then hear all the instruments together electronically.
Tan said the IMEA competition includes several categories, but the rules were changed to select just three overall winners this year instead of one from each group.
It’s tedious at times, but you can’t take shortcuts.
“That made it a little more competitive this year,” he said. Plus the deadline fell in early June, coinciding with Tan’s last few days of classes at Culver. “It fell just as I was getting out of school,” which made wrapping up his fourth class year even more stressful.
“I worked on it in my free time,” he explained, but free time is in short supply when you are also involved in rowing and fencing, concert band, orchestra, Lancer Band, are a Student Admissions Officer, and write for The Vedette. Tan used his iPhone’s voice memo feature to keep track of his ideas when they would come to him, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to record his thoughts.
He submitted the written score and an MP3 file of him playing the piece. He was accompanied by his mother on the piano. The IMEA didn’t announce its decision until a month ago, sending a letter to Tan’s home. “My mom sent me a text and included a picture of it.”
Along with the violin, which he plays in the orchestra, Tan is self-taught on the piano and clarinet, which he plays in the band. He has been composing music after he was introduced to the composition software in sixth grade. He writes the music for each instrument first and then the software plays it back as a full orchestra. Tan visualizes each note on the staff as he writes.
The first public performance of one of his compositions was in eighth grade, he said. It was a piece for a concert band.
Writing takes “a lot of work,” he said, but he enjoys the challenge of tweaking each instrument so the whole sounds the way he wants. “It’s tedious at times,” Tan explained, “but you can’t take shortcuts. Getting lazy with one instrument – like the flute – affects the sound of the whole orchestra.
“That’s when you learn details matter.”