Making history by making music

By Shianna Gibbons

Music composition major Aaron White, made Youngstown State University and Dana School of Music history by being the first freshman to compose music for the Jazz Ensemble to play during its concert Feb. 20.

“Snapdragon” is the title of the composition, and it was inspired by the colorful flowers that White’s dad and grandpa grew in the yard at his house. White started the composition in the summer before this academic year, originally on the piano.

“I just kind of toss things around, and a lot of it is just improvised. Usually, my best ideas aren’t thought in detail — I just kind of play something. I played the starting line, and I just really liked it. The little opening lick to the melody is used a lot in my arrangement,” White said. 

White said he started playing music and learning the piano in middle school, but his passion for composing began in high school. 

“I started learning music theory and how to read music, and those skills helped me start composing,” White said. “I was already just coming up with little things on the piano and using my ear. Once I understood jazz and got better with music, I was able to come up with better, more complex things.”

White went to Dave Morgan, a music composition professor, and told Morgan he wanted to arrange the song for the Jazz Ensemble.

“[Morgan] was very helpful with giving me ideas [and a] better understanding of how to actually arrange for an ensemble like that because you’re working with 17 instruments — not all different ones — but still, it’s a lot of stuff,” White said. “Over Christmas break is when I finalized everything I had written, and I came back in the spring semester and handed it to the big band and we took it from there.”

White said he was unaware that he would be the first freshman from the Dana School of Music to compose a song for the Jazz Ensemble.

“I had no idea about that at all. I remember [Morgan] telling me, ‘I was never expecting a freshman to do this.’ I don’t remember him ever saying it was the first time he’s ever seen it at YSU,” White said.

White is not a part of the Jazz Ensemble but was in the jazz combo that opened for the Feb. 20 concert. White also composed and performed “Quadacity,” in the jazz combo. However, when the Jazz Ensemble performed “Snapdragon,” he was given the opportunity to play along with the band on the piano.

“When I first heard them play it, it was kind of a surreal experience. I’m so used to writing this stuff out on my computer, hearing the playback, and being like, ‘Okay, well, this is just crappy computer-generated sounds. I’m never going to hear this get played by real instruments.’ And then it was played by real instruments,” White said. “They played it very well on the first time, and I’m just hearing all of this right away, and I’m just like, ‘Wow, this is a real group of people playing my music.’”

There may be some fine-tuning and small changes for “Snapdragon,” according to White. However, White said he is going to focus on composing other pieces of music. 

White said writing music is one of his favorite things to do, and the Dana School of Music has been a great opportunity for him to pursue his dreams.