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January 29, 2016

What music speaks to you?


Do you have a composer or specific piece of music that’s followed you throughout your life? Inspired by Sir András Schiff’s well-known love of Bach, I did an informal poll of current students and recent graduates at U-M School of Music, Theater, and Dance. Here are some of their responses:

word cloud of composers mentioned by students

Image: Music that speaks to music students, visualized.

I love anything by Bach – I find it really easy to learn and play. I think very linearly in music and not vertically (harmonically), and Bach’s piano works are typically all about the interplay of lines. — Christina Liu, ’12 M.M. Piano Performance & Chamber Music Performance

marlo williamsThere’s just so much there to work with, and it’s simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting. Rachmaninov’s Vocalise is absolutely delicious and different every time depending on the emotional ingredients you put into it. It changes with your life. It’s like magic. — Marlo Williams, ’16 M.M. Double Bass Performance

My favorite composer changes weekly, but one piece I always return to is Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. It’s beautifully quiet, tranquil, and has an element of darkness and sadness that I find incredibly alluring. Although I am no longer a violinist by trade, whenever the chaos gets to me, I always retreat to this work. — Gunnar Foster, ‘15 B.S. Mathematics

emily hoffnerAs a horn player, Mahler never stops speaking to me. There are just so many characters that he allows the horn to be in his symphonies…and so many soulful voices and colors. In 2012 I performed Mahler 7 with USO, and just last week I played it at a festival.  It reminds me of the “good ole days” at Michigan. — ‘14 B.M. French Horn Performance

Appalachian Spring & Beethoven 7. I played these my first year at Interlochen as a high school student. It was the first time I was in a really good orchestra. — Chris Livesay, ‘14 B.M. Instrumental Music Education

kat stiehI initially loved Apocryphal by Vinnie Sperrazza, a New York jazz drummer, because of its use of space and its instrumental effects. I keep returning to it and finding appreciation for it in new ways. — Kat Steih, ’14 B.S. Physics and Performing Arts Technology

The musical Sunday in the Park with George  because Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and music have so much humanity embedded under every choice of note and word. His work opens up all my wounds and heals them at the same time. — Kevin Goldberg, ‘16  B.M. Music Directing and Conducting for Musical Theatre

zoe kumagaiMinuet I in G major from the Cello Suite No 1 by Bach. But I don’t have a very good explanation. It just feels good. — Zoe Kumagai, ‘14 B.M. Double Bass Performance

I’ve always been drawn to Tchaikovsky, and since my voice recently dropped into a proper tenor range, I’m learning Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin (which has always been one of my favorite operas). It’s such a huge joy, and I feel like I really connect with both the subtleties of the characters and the overt romanticism of the music. — Holden Madagame, ‘14 B.M. Vocal Performance

tessa-romanoAnything by Mozart because his coloratura for mezzo is so satisfying to sing. Also, I love the jazz standard called Misty because jazz is something I sing for myself, although I don’t really perform it.  — Tessa Romano, ’15 M.M. Vocal Performance

Brahms Requiem is up there on the list of pieces I could play all day and forever. — Rachel Paxton, ‘16 B.M. Instrumental Music Education

maren laurenceI am always drawn to Debussy’s music; to me, his music is magical. His music has a certain feeling of calmness that transports you into a fantasy. When I play it, I feel a story in everything.  — Maren Laurence, ‘14 B.M. Harp Performance

As far as the tuba goes, I always find myself playing the Arild Plau concerto, which is probably the most beautiful piece we have. It’s incredibly simple and elegant, which is a great contrast to the ponderous and bombastic music tubas so often play. — Mike Frasier, ‘14 B.M. Tuba Performance

libby-seidnerI return to Bach’s Partita for Solo Flute often as a performer because it provides never ending technical challenges, and has renewed meaning for me depending on where I am in my life.  — Libby Seidner, ‘15 B.M. Instrumental Music Education


matt-rynesThe piece I keep returning to is the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Messiaen. No other piece walks the line between rapturous beauty and grotesque horror so convincingly. When I first heard the piece a long time ago, I was completely overwhelmed by its scale and sense of euphoria I felt by the finale. — Matt Rynes, ’14 M.M. Clarinet Performance


annika sokolofskyComposers who are awesome again and again: Donnacha Dennehy, Julia Wolfe, Evan Chambers (duh!), Dan Trueman, Alan Bern — Annika Socolofsky, ’14 M.A. Composition



If you’d like to see a musician play one of his all-time favorite composers, stop by one of Sir András Schiff’s three concerts February 16-20. More info at 

So, do you have a piece of music that you love to perform? Is there a composer or band that you just can’t stop listening to? Share below.