March 07, 2016

‘Outside the Box’ set for March 24-April 3

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- It’s a tough world for new music composers these days. So many different musical movements and styles have been done and then re-done already. There are opportunities in Hollywood for soundtrack composers, but the competition is more than fierce. The same is true with video game soundtracks. And out of all the music sales, something like one percent is classical, and of that, less than one percent is for new music. 

But people are still composing, they are still following the music their souls tell them to write. And Outside the Box, a celebration and study of contemporary music written for classic instrumentation, is part of it. The festival returns to Southern Illinois University Carbondale for 15 concerts in 11 days, March 24-April 3. 

Christopher Walczak, assistant professor of music theory and composition, is in his first year on the faculty at SIU. He brings with him considerable composition and commissioned composition expertise, as well as performance and festival participation experience. 

While a main function of the festival is bringing new music to the Southern Illinois region, Walczak is excited, too, about what it means for his students at the “people” level. 

“New composers today are facing maybe the biggest question mark,” he said. “We live in an age when everything is art, anything goes, it’s not only been done, it’s been neo-done. It’s a challenge: What do you do with your art? How do you make your way?” 

Walczak wants SIU students to learn composition and music theory and philosophy from the festival guest musicians, but he also wants them to become career savvy. The composers headlining Outside the Box have found their artistic niches and they have the commissions and festival and academic residencies to go with it. And, in many cases, they’ve found ways to support their music in other areas of the music industry -- teaching or sound engineering, for example. 

The guests he’s invited may not be household names, but in the field of new music they resonate. Walczak said that’s a benefit, too. This festival helps put SIU on a different kind of map, one appealing to composers and music professionals and festival organizers. The students benefit from the expanded viewpoints of guest musicians, and the musicians learn about SIU. It’s networking and bridge-building for the students and faculty. 

For music lovers, it’s a lot of opportunities to hear some of the biggest names in new music:

Pulitzer Prize winner Yehudi Wyner

Coolidge Trio

Sonic Apricity


Nathanel Bartlett

And School of Music faculty and ensembles:

Concert Choir

Wind Ensemble

Studio Jazz Orchestra

Altgeld Chamber Players

Dick Kelley

School of Music Emerging Composers

Jeremiah Selvey with the SIU Contemporary Vocal Ensembles

Junghwa Lee

Jay Needham (Department of Radio, Television and Digital Media)

Percussion Ensemble 

Yehudi Wyner will perform some of his own works in company with the Coolidge Trio at 7:30 p.m. on March 26 in the Old Baptist Foundation Recital Hall. SIU faculty will also perform, including works from SIU emerita composer Kathleen Ginther, Christopher Walczak and composer Augusta Read Thomas. 

A complete schedule is available here, with links to further information about all guests.