Yowon Yoon '14 stumbled unexpectedly upon his music major and honors project. Yoon came to Bowdoin thinking he would major in Biology and Computer Science but after thoroughly enjoying his piano lessons and music theory classes, he declared a music major and is now composing a three part piano concerto.
“I didn’t start doing any music theory until I came to Bowdoin,” said Yoon. “I played piano, and in order to take lessons for credit, I had to take a course, so I took intro to music theory.”
His concerto is a part of a year-long honors independent study, advised by Professor of Music Robert Greenlee in the fall and Associate Professor of Music Vineet Shende this semester. It will be performed by the Bowdoin Orchestra at the end of April.
Yoon said that he enjoys composing despite the difficulties it poses.
“The biggest challenge has been trying to write for instruments that I don’t really play…I’m trying to make sure that I don’t write boring parts for people,” said Yoon. “Each instrument is so unique in terms of its timbral quality that being able to internalize all the different characteristics and combine them—there are infinite combinations.’
His inspiration for the piece came mostly from Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and Polish composer Witold Lutosławski.
“My goal is to emulate Lutosławski’s use of texture and textural differences as well as Rachmaninoff’s ability to incorporate a singable melody in a more complex harmonic context,” said Yoon.
Yoon, who has been playing piano since he was five, has stopped solo performances for now to focus on his project, although he still continues working with the Bowdoin chamber ensemble. He has found that composing has shifted his attitude when it comes to playing music written by others.
“I don’t really feel sad about not performing now,” said Yoon. “The biggest difference now is when I’m playing something I am much more aware of the composition itself, having spent hours and hours myself writing 30 seconds of music. When I was playing before I would just play through it...but now I’m trying to understand what the composer was intending, and then if I mess up I feel really bad.”
The faculty at Bowdoin have been instrumental in Yoon’s learning process.
“The music department in general is really strong, especially since the faculty outnumber the number of honors students,” said Yoon. “Vineet Shende, Robert Greenlee, Mary Hunter, and George Lopez--who is not a professor but teaches piano and gives concerts… They are all really supportive and they are all really good.”
Yoon argued that the strength of the department and student instrumentalists is sometimes overlooked.
“There’s a whole slew of musicians who aren’t involved with the Bowdoin Music Collective who are phenomenally talented,” said Yoon. “You’d be surprised how many instrumentalists there are at Bowdoin.”