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Student Composer Showcase - Catching up with Ethan Duncan

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Ethan Duncan
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used with permission
Music-COMP alum, Ethan Duncan, now lives in Minnesota and performs with the band Freefol.

Ethan: You know, what a special thing to have your music played by professionals as just a sixth or seventh grader that I was…

James: That’s Ethan Duncan, an alum of Music-COMP, the composition mentoring program and our highlighted composer for this month’s student composer showcase. Ethan grew up in Winooski and Williston, Vermont. He started working with Music-COMP in sixth grade and participated all the way to his senior year of high school. Through his time with Music-COMP, Ethan composed for six different Opus concerts and two special projects with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. Ethan was a featured student composer back in September of 2014 when he was an eighth grader at Williston Central School. You’ll find the link to that archived feature here. Today, Ethan lives in Minnesota, where he’s about to graduate with an undergraduate degree in accounting. We caught up with Ethan to reminisce a bit about his time with Music-COMP.

Ethan: The experience was great! I worked with a couple of different mentors. I’d been writing music casually for a couple of years and that was the first I’d written something in a serious capacity, you know, for an actual performance. It was a fantastic experience. I’d recommend it to anybody. Especially any kid that is interested in music, even if you don’t write at the moment. They’ll give you all the tools you need and the instructions you need. So that was really what propelled me to do what I do today with music.

James: And what are you doing with music these days?

Ethan: Today, my main involvement with music is through my band out here in Minnesota, Freefol. Yeah, I wouldn’t really be there without Music-COMP in all likelihood, cause they kind of helped spur my passion for music. Playing piano, which I did my whole life, is one thing, but to be able to write is really special and that’s kind of what kept me going with music. I actually had my old mentor reach out to me about my endeavors with the band, which I thought was really special too. You know, the life-long connections you build with the program are really something that, well, it’s rare for something that you do outside of school, kind of an extracurricular. It just kind of shows how valuable it was for me and it’s really kept me going though music and I wouldn’t be where I’m at today with the band or otherwise musically without Music-COMP.

James: Back in 2018, Ethan wrote the piece “Songs of the Season” which was premiered by the Vermont Symphony Brass Quintet during their annual holiday tour. The piece weaves 11 different quotes from favorite carols and holiday songs around an original melody. It makes the music a bit of a treasure hunt. You can find the quotes of “Jingle Bells”, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, “Joy to the World” or “All I Want For Christmas is You”? There’s that and much more waiting in this piece.

The Music Composition Mentoring Program (Music-COMP) is a Vermont non-profit started in 1995 that teaches students in grades 3-12 how to compose original music. Students are paired with professional composers as mentors, and over 50 works are premiered each year with professional musicians.

Production support for the Student Composer Showcase is provided by Lake Champlain Access Television, a community media center serving eight towns in Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle Counties, providing a free forum for expression, and a link to local government and training. More at lcatv.org

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James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.