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Chris Gray takes the stage for his senior Composition recital

Chris Gray conducts a brass band in his piece, "Reflections." (Northern Review photo/ Brittany Newton)

Approachability, tenacity, and focus are a few of the words used to describe Chris Gray's senior Composition recital performed on Sunday, Dec. 6 in the Snyder Recital Hall inside Ohio Northern University’s Presser Hall. Chris, a senior Music Performance and Music Theory & Composition major, focused his recital on his music composition skills. The recital consisted of music composed entirely by Gray, and was performed by many other music students within ONU’s Department of Music. Together, the recital left quite an impression on the audience.

Preparing for the Recital

In order to produce the recital, Gray asked several students from multiple majors and who played various instruments to perform his pieces for him. The performers, Nicole Wells, Anna Campbell, Dr. David Kosmyna, Timothy Pelltier, Michael Bassett, Noah Walter, Timothy Martin, Ryan Briley, Maggie Bittner, Ross Grillot, Austin Douglas, and Cody Switzer, each played a different instrument to create the vision Gray had for his pieces.

Gray himself performed during the recital with his fellow music friends.

With this recital, Gray created a sense of collaboration through the performance of the pieces with the various instruments. Surprisingly, the students were only required to have one major rehearsal before the actual recital. Gray finalized his pieces long before he asked students to perform in his recital, which made the rehearsal process simple for all who were involved.

Gray discusses his appreciation of his performers and their dedication to improving his pieces.

As a composer, it’s always a joy to hear what musicians hear in my music and how they interpret it. And also, gives me feedback as a composer as far as the notes I put down, what I put in the score and how that communicates to performers and the audience,” said Gray.

While composing his pieces, as all composers do, Gray ran into his fair share of challenges. Although, he dealt with the challenges with grace and moved forward to finalize his set list for the final product. To do this, he incorporated criticism and comments about his pieces in order to develop a finalized piece.

Dr. David Kosmyna, associate professor of music and Gray’s Music Theory & Composition adviser, talked about how well his student prepared for his recital.

Chris wrote music for his friends, mostly. And, those people were able to play. He’s a terrific pianist, so he made sure that everything was really prepared and sounded good…There weren’t any performances of his pieces that were virtual sight reading sessions,” Kosmyna remarked.

The collaboration to bring Gray’s pieces together paid off to create a performance that left the audience and performers in awe of the new music brought forth.

The Recital

During the recital, there were a number of pieces performed, including electronic music, collaborative, and ensemble pieces. The piece that required the most musicians, “Reflections,” was Gray’s favorite piece in his recital. The piece, intended for a brass band, consisted of three trumpets, two French horns, three trombones, a euphonium, and a tuba. Gray composed the piece during his time studying abroad at the University of Salford in Manchester, England. The piece represents the differences in culture between American and English composition.

Maggie Bittner, junior Music Education major and trombone player in “Reflections,” talks about the uniqueness of Gray’s composing style and her appreciation of performing in the piece.  

His pieces were very unique. He’s young and he’s not some famous ancient composer that we’ve heard a billion times. So, it was something different. The Reflections piece that I played in had a lot of dissonance, so it wasn’t just standard chords. It made the audience stand on the edge of their seat,” said Bittner.

Another popular piece in the recital was a Sonatina for Flute, which is a collaborative piece for flute and piano with two movements, including “Slowly” and “Dance.” The piece, challenging and fascinating for the audience, was performed by senior flutist Nicole Wells and pianist Chris Gray.

Anna Campbell, junior Music History & Literature major and violin soloist in the recital, talks about her appreciation of having the opportunity to perform.

I loved playing in Chris’ recital. He is a great composer and you can actually feel the passion he puts into his pieces. He didn’t just throw notes on a page. There was actually something to work with and play well,” said Campbell.

Gray’s Journey at Ohio Northern

In his four years at Ohio Northern, Gray has learned much about music theory and incorporated his knowledge into developing his composing style. His composing style became apparent during his recital to the performers and the audience. Gray is mostly influenced by late Romantic style and modern music with extended harmonies and rich melodies.

Dr. Kosmyna talks about how recognizable and complex Gray’s composing style has evolved during his time at Ohio Northern.

Gray began playing the piano during his freshmen year of high school. From there, he became a talented musician, with his next step becoming a music student at Ohio Northern.

During his career at Ohio Northern, Gray started off as a Piano Performance major. After developing his technique, he decided to add on his second major, Music Theory & Composition, during his sophomore year. After taking on this major, Gray began to compose his own music and to start his college career in composition.

During his time at Ohio Northern, Gray has become involved in multiple music organizations, including Phi Mu Alpha (PMA), the ONU Wind Orchestra, Ohio Collegiate Music Education Association (OCMEA), University Singers, Men’s Chorus, American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) and a Choir Director at the Ada First United Methodist Church. Although he may not be a part of all of these organizations currently, each organization helped to shape him into the musician that he is in his senior year.

Gray still remains a part of PMA and the Ada First United Methodist Church staff.

Gray discusses his pathway into becoming a composer, and the influences Ohio Northern had in the process.

The combination of Gray’s love of performing and composition allows him to be a great musician. He has been performing for a long time, and he doesn’t plan to stop any time soon. To conclude his time at Ohio Northern, Gray has one more recital during the spring semester. This recital will be for Piano Performance, where he will perform challenging pieces by various composers, including Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Franz Liszt.

After graduation, Gray hopes to continue to pursue different venues as a pianist, including musical theater, jazz, and composition. Ultimately, he seeks to obtain his Doctorate in Music Theory and to teach at a university.

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