Colgate Students Team Up With Contemporaneous Ensemble

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In spring 2023, students in Assistant Professor of Music Ryan Chase’s MUSI 245: Composition class had the opportunity to collaborate with the New York City–based Contemporaneous Ensemble. During the course of the semester, students worked closely with Chase to compose several short pieces before creating a complete work for chamber ensemble, which was then performed live in a public concert at the end of the semester.

MUSI 245 allows students to take risks and to challenge themselves and their audiences, without constraints on creativity. The goal is to present exciting music of our time through innovative performances and recordings and to bring educational and outreach programs to communities in need, especially those that would not otherwise have access to new music.

Eric Zhu ’26 quickly found that his experiences in the class were not only educational, teaching him about composition and arrangements, but also personal, as he made several lasting connections with the musicians during their time working together.

“Through the dinner, masterclass, and workshops, I learned so much about these musicians’ careers, passions, and insights on composition and arrangements,” says Zhu.

Marisa Modugno ’23, who has been playing violin, piano, and cello since she was a child, was excited to try out a music class in her last semester at Colgate. Despite being nervous about composing for an ensemble of real musicians, she worked on her composition and finally had a few minutes of music she felt eager to share for feedback. But one of the most memorable moments for Modugno took place when violinist Finn Shanahan loaned her his violin so that she could participate in the ensemble herself while he accompanied her on guitar.

“It was wonderful to be in that creative space,” recalls Modugno. “It was something that I, a very classically trained musician, had never experienced before and which I will not soon forget.”

In addition to classically trained Modugno, the class included students from a variety of different musical backgrounds — a punk bassist, a classical pianist, film scorers, band kids, and more — all coming together to learn from Contemporaneous and each other.

In addition to exposing students to styles of music they had not experienced before, the partnership between Contemporaneous and MUSI 245 also provided an invaluable opportunity for students to develop their composition skills, work with a professional ensemble, and gain insight into the world of contemporary music.

Zhu recalls learning to compose under time constraints as well as how to hear his work live and be able to note changes he would like to make by ear.

“I only had two weeks to compose a chamber piece, but Professor Chase guided us to revise the notation and presentation of our scores, so that we all had our best drafts entering our first session,” Zhu says. “Then, the Contemporaneous partnership really allowed me to experiment further with orchestration and scoring.”

Danny Ruiz ’25 composed a piece called “Over Water” for the ensemble. “To have the experience of hearing the music I wrote performed by an ensemble of that caliber is something I could never have imagined,” says Ruiz. “This will go down as one of my favorite memories of my entire Colgate experience.”