Finding liberty in composition

Composition student Joseph Fitzner challenges the pressure to perform in the department of music

When you walk into the Marjorie Young Bell Conservatory of Music, the sounds of students hard at work in practice rooms fill your ears. No matter the time of day, there always seem to be people practicing and working on their extensive repertoire for the year. However, if you’re looking for music student Joseph Fitzner, you might have better luck finding him in the Mac Lab, a room in the basement filled with computers and piano keyboards.

The Mac Lab can be used by any music student for any kind of computer work, but it is most useful for those who are taking composition classes. Each computer in the lab gives students access to Sibelius, a score writer and music notation software. The software allows students to create, edit and print music scores. Sibelius can also play the music back using samples of sounds for each instrument. Whether a student is composing for their own enjoyment or for a class assignment, the Mac Lab is the place to go.

Fitzner, a third-year music student, spends a great deal of his time in the Mac Lab and has confessed to preferring composition to performance. In fact, Fitzner has honed his composition skill over his time at Mt. A. and is trying to specialize in composition. “I don’t feel like I’m creating when I play the trumpet,” said Fitzner. Being a composer is where he feels most at home.

Mt. A’s music program offers a unique curriculum in which students don’t stream into their particular area of interest. At other universities, they would have to choose to go into performance, composition, musicology etc. Mt. A offers an approach that has a focus on performance; however, students also have the option of taking whatever classes they want, even if they don’t align with their primary area of study. Fitzner challenges these norms of focussing on performance by primarily focusing on composition.

In composition classes, Fitzner is encouraged to compose for specific assignments on a weekly basis. His genre of choice varies, though. He describes his compositional style as “experimental electronic music, a hybrid between art music and pop.” Through this, Fitzner tries to make his music accessible to all audiences. He also wants to continue to create music that he, himself, enjoys.

When asked why he prefers composition to performance, Fitzner replied, “Because that’s where music starts!” He said he feels that people are growing tired of pop music and that the same chord progressions won’t work forever. “I want to reach people with my music,” continued Fitzner. “I want to take things to the next level with timbre and sampling while creating interest in my music.”

In composition classes, students are typically encouraged to compose classical music. However, Fitzner pushes the envelope with his use of tape and soundscape and his technique. His most recent work, entitled Liberty, is a perfect example of this. “I wouldn’t call Liberty classical or pop. It’s simply art music,” Fitzner said. “In class, we talk about how the definition of classical music is super blurry and people cross that line all the time.” Fitzner uses the guidance of his professors tso push boundaries and find a unique style. “I bring my stuff to my professor and we have lessons and he critiques and gives suggestions. It’s really objective but he’ll never say anything is wrong. He’ll give suggestions to give my piece direction or emotion,” he said.

“When I started Liberty, I knew I wanted to work with text. I was reading through 7 Mondays and came across a poem by student Luschka Van Aardt,” Fitzner said. Her poem New York inspired him, especially when he heard her read the poem aloud. “I thought it was really powerful. The way she spoke was really candid so I even included her in the performance of the piece,” said Fitzner. In his composition, the text is read over electronic tape and clips New York soundscape with an ambient voice part. You can find samples of this piece among Fitzner’s other work at

Next year, Fitzner hopes that he can focus even more on composition and less on performance. “I’m trying to build the opportunity for composition studio,” he said. He’s currently working with the department to see if this could be an option. If this were to become a reality, students might have the option of having weekly composition lessons rather than lessons on instruments. Fitzner’s compositional style will keep growing with him, and I know I’ll be seeing his name on some great pieces in the future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles