By Caitlin Marsch, Current Staff
For one local student, being involved in band doesn’t just mean performing pieces. It also means creating them.
John Swillinger, a senior at West Bend East High School, has been chosen to be a fellow for the John Downey Creation Project, where he will work alongside music professors at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to compose a piece for the prestigious Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. His composition will receive its world premiere in April at the group’s spring concert. He has participated in the ensemble for two years.
The John Downey Creation Project works with Present Music, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit music organization and ensemble, to give select MYSO students a chance to work with a professional composer as they create their own piece of music.
“He’ll work closely with Ron Foster and Margery Deutsch at MYSO as he’s composing,” WBHS band director Leah Duckert-Kroll said. “They will give him guidance on voicing, texture, range, theory, notation, et cetera. Then the Senior Symphony, MYSO’s top orchestra, will read through his work, and he’ll make possible adjustments based on what he and his mentors hear.”
Ron Foster and Margery Deutsch are both music professors at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Many people apply to be a fellow for the John Downey Creation Project, but each year only a couple make it. Those who do make it are paired with different ensembles.
“They paired me with the highest orchestra, which is a huge honor because they will be performing something I wrote, which is crazy,” Swillinger said. “It’s really cool to see your piece come to life, especially by a really good ensemble.”
Swillinger said the application process, which included answering questions and demonstrating a piece that he had written before, was quite rigorous.
“You need some music theory background and some writing background, and there needs to be a good reason why you’re doing it,” he said.
“It’s really cool to see your piece come to life, especially by a really good ensemble.”
– John Swillinger
Duckert-Kroll said that Swillinger is very passionate about music, and has a strong desire to learn and achieve. She also noted the band’s pride for him, and what his accomplishment means to her.
“John’s accomplishment and participation in this program is very meaningful to me, personally, because John Downey was my Form and Analysis professor when I was at UW-Milwaukee as a music education major,” Duckert-Kroll said.
East junior and fellow band member Sam Walters agrees that Swillinger is an unusually talented musician.
“John has always been the one guy that is really good at a lot of instruments,” Walters said. “He plays in a majority of the school bands, and is in two other independent bands on the side as well.”
When asked about his future plans, Swillinger talked about his desire to stay involved in music.
“I would like to major in composition, maybe double major in performance,” he said. “My hope is to write for movies.”
Duckert-Kroll echoed his sentiment. She recognizes his talent and drive, and hopes that he will continue studying music after high school.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he made his living as a professional musician, whether by performing or composing, or a combination of both,” Duckert-Kroll said.
(Top image: Multi-instrumentalist John Swillinger stands in the Silver Lining Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Swillinger.)