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February 08, 2012 | 08:08 AMWILLIAMS BAY — Wayne Oquin, teacher and composer at The Juilliard School of New York City, wrote "Prism," a six-minute classical orchestral piece specifically for the Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra.
It was a first for the community-based symphony and the piece was premiered for the public and well-received by the audience at the LGSO's Feb. 4 concert at Elkhorn Area High School. Symphony Director David Anderson didn't just have the orchestra play it once, they played it twice.
But a day earlier, while meeting with music students in Elaine Sellenheim's choral music classroom at Williams Bay High School, Oquin said writing pieces for premiers isn't his goal.
"I'm not interested in world premiers," said Oquin. "I want to write a piece that people want to hear more than once because they love the music. Composers need to establish a relationship with people who love the music."
For about an hour, Oquin and Anderson established a connection with about 40 Williams Bay students who also love the music.
In addition to writing "Prism," Oquin spent four days, Feb. 1 to 4, as Walworth County's composer in residence. He spent the four days giving lectures and meeting with music students at Beloit College and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
On Feb. 3, Oquin visited students at Williams Bay High School. He had also visited with students at Delavan-Darien High School. A day earlier, he talked to students at Badger High School, Lake Geneva.
Establishing communication with high school music students comes easily to Oquin. He knows his stuff and is at ease taking questions and giving direct answers.
At Juilliard, Oquin, 34, teaches both undergraduate and graduate classes, dealing with students not much younger, and a few older, than himself.
Oquin teaches 19 hours a week in undergraduate and graduate courses covering musicianship, ear training, literature and materials, Beethoven 1800-1810, American symphony, American song, and the late works of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bartók, and Hindemith.
"One thing about teaching at the Juilliard is that there is little room for error," Oquin said. He said the teacher must know the material, because most of his students have probably played all of the pieces of various composers and know those works by heart.
The Williams Bay students were curious about the composer.
When did he get interested in classical music?
What is his process of writing music?
Why is classical music still important?
A Houston, Texas native, Oquin said his love of music started early. He started playing piano when he was 3, and by 11 or 12 he was interested in composing. His parents had little experience with music, but Oquin said they encouraged his musical interests and education.
After graduating from Texas State University, Oquin continued his studies at the Juilliard School, where he earned a master's degree and then a doctorate of music. He joined the teaching staff there in 2008.
Now a composer with 15 works to his credit, Oquin has two works that are now internationally recognized, "Ave Maria" and "Tower Ascending."
Oquin told the students that he never wrote music the same way twice. Often, he starts somewhere in the middle, and tries to find a beginning and an end.
"Rarely do I start at the very beginning and work forward, or start at the ending and work backward," Oquin said. "But I did that with your piece," he said, addressing Anderson about "Prism." "I wrote the opening last."
There's plenty of classical music out there, Oquin admitted.
"Just the organ works of (Johann Sebastian) Bach would take 19 hours to play," he said.
But modern classical music is still needed.
"The world today is radically different," Oquin said. "Composers of today confront issues that composers never dreamt of facing in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries."
Classical music also has staying power.
A student asked Oquin if he had felt left out by his high school classmates because of his love of classical music.
"I used to wonder what was wrong with some of my friends," Oquin said.
He said he made it clear that he did not consider some of what they were listened to music.
"Two hundred and fifty years from now, no one will know who Cher was, or Lady Gaga," Oquin said. He said almost no one today remembers the popular musicians and composers of the 1850s, or even the 1950s.
"But there will always be a community for classical music," Oquin said. "It's stood the test of time."