Eastern Music Students and Faculty Impress and Inspire

Students and faculty in Eastern Washington University’s Music Program continue to collaborate to achieve across-the-board excellence. These inspiring stories showcase our talented EWU choirs and musicians and their many accomplishments. 

Two EWU Choirs Selected for Prestigious Performances 

Symphonic and Jazz choirs traveled to Yakima last month for two captivating live performances at The Seasons Performance Hall, part of their hard-won selection to appear at the Washington Music Educators Association (WMEA) annual conference.  

“Sometimes everything works, and it feels like magic. That’s what the WMEA choir tour felt like,” says Kristina Ploeger-Hekmatpanah, a professor of choral studies at Eastern. 

The EWU Collegians jazz choir does a sound check to get ready to perform at The Seasons Performance Hall in Yakima.

It has been two decades since an EWU choir was chosen to perform at the conference. Competition is stiff as colleges and universities across the state vie for the chance to perform before this influential audience, she explains, and the honor of having two choirs selected is unprecedented for the university. 

“It felt other-worldly. I haven’t performed for that many people since before the pandemic. It felt so good to perform again,” says choir member Grace Nall, a 22-year-old music composition major from Liberty Lake.  

Nall was among the nearly 30 EWU choir members who practiced for several months before traveling to the conference. While there, they completed a 4-day itinerary packed with educational opportunities and chances for career-building connections with K-12 music teachers and students – something especially valuable for the students who plan on becoming music teachers. 

In route to Yakima, the EWU choirs performed for and with students at Moses Lake and Ephrata High Schools. Several high schoolers were so impressed by Eastern’s students and faculty members that they immediately applied to EWU, Ploeger-Hekmatpanah said. 

The trip was also life-changing for Nall, who was set to graduate this spring. She now plans to return to Eastern for an additional year to pursue a Bachelor of Music Education degree and become an elementary- or middle-school music teacher. 

“It was a really inspirational experience for me. It’s fun to see these kids succeed and watch how quickly they pick up on things,” Nall says. 

Projected costs for the trip to Yakima far exceeded Ploeger-Hekmatpanah’s budget, initially putting the viability of the trip in doubt. Support from department leadership and a generous gift from Ronald and Susan Runyon, made in the fall of 2021, paid for transportation, travel and meals. In addition, the funds supported workshops with leading musicians to prepare the students for their performances. 

“A donor understood and valued our work making the trip possible. The students were phenomenal in their work, empathy, and musicianship. And, at the end of the day we were all changed for the better. I could not have wished for more,” says Ploeger-Hekmatpanah. 

Reinvigorated after the live performances, Nall credits Ploeger-Hekmatpanah with helping her through the deflating experience of singing and composing via Zoom. “Without her, and some of my other professors, I wouldn’t have gotten through the pandemic as positively as I did,” Nall says. 

Classical Album by an Eastern Music Professor Makes Top 50 List  

A new recording by Michael Waldrop, a professor of percussion, made the AllMusic list of top 50 classical albums of 2021.  Time Frames, produced by Michael Waldrop and Tim Reppert, was funded by a Faculty Research and Creative Work Fund (FRCW) grant. This is the third FRCW grant Waldrop has received from EWU. 

Origin, Waldrop’s recording studio, submits all their releases to AllMusic, a respected online database for music of all genres. The company catalogs and documents over 100,000 recordings annually. 

AllMusic reviews only a small selection of these releases. Time Frames was the first of Waldrop’s albums reviewed. “I’m humbled and honored to be on that list,” says Waldrop. 

The vast majority of albums listed are classical recordings of classical compositions by Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and other great masters. Waldrop’s album is unusually modern. “The fact that half of the music was composed by me and the other half by current living composers is unique,” says Waldrop.  

The album features other Eagle musicians, including ​EWU professor Jonathan Middleton, who contributed a composition titled Hollow, and Shawn Trail, who engineered that recording. 

Waldrop also collaborated with musicians from other universities, as well as Jose Rossy and Brad Dutz, renowned percussionists who have worked with Talking Heads, Weather Report, Alanis Morissette and others and “play central roles in the CD,” says Waldrop.  

There was remote recording done in LA, Indianapolis, and Memphis as well, he adds, “So this is very much a pandemic recording, which I think adds to the emotional intensity of the album. It was therapy for me; a way of defying the pandemic, by creating something in the midst of all of the despair caused by the pandemic.” 

Student Writes Winning Score in International Video Game Development Competition

Jake Stevens, an EWU senior double majoring in guitar performance and musical composition, recently won the Judge’s Pick award for best original audio in the Games Jobs Live, a livestream, video game development competition hosted and judged by industry experts in the United Kingdom and Europe.  

Stevens and his team were among 300 participants who submitted 53 games for the virtual showcase. In addition to taking top music honors for the game soundtrack, Stevens’ team won “best narrative” for the game, titled Memoriam

“It’s very exciting to have won first place in my category,” says Stevens.  

A crucial component of the contest is the time constraint: each game needed to be created within a week. Stevens created music for all three “areas” of Memoriam — as well as for each character and multiple versions of the ending — while the team collaborated on scriptwriting, programming and visual art. 

Memoriam has an escape room narrative, with three areas that each have themed music and puzzles to solve. The music at the end of the game has a uniting theme that involves a track featuring two pianos: one sample and one synthesized. Depending on the outcome of the game, there are slightly different versions of the song.  

“I built them (the musical pieces) like Legos, where each piece builds on the other, but the structurally important stuff is always there,” says Stevens.  

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