Before the start of the 2019 spring semester, music composition professor Brian Bondari made a mysterious disappearance.
Stepping away from his popular electronic music classes and normal faculty duties for a semester of academic leave, Bondari made a sudden re-emergence in June, holding an original creation: a new symphony, simply titled, “Trinity.”
“Brian was working on this all spring, and he just came out of his cave one day and said: ‘it is done,’” says fellow music professor Joseph Kneer, who will be premiering the piece with the Trinity Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, Oct. 19.
Bondari originally hatched the idea with president Danny Anderson at a 2017 convocation ceremony and finally found time to create the piece this spring.
True to its namesake, “Trinity” is split into three movements: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Named after philosopher Aristotle's three artistic proofs or three modes of persuasion, the movements roughly correspond to concepts of past, present, and future: ethos, meaning fundamental values; pathos, meaning experience and emotional investment; and logos, meaning potential.
“The piece moves from slower and lyrical, to somber and serious, and then ends with more of a fanfare,” Bondari says. “This was originally just a small, eight-minute piece. But as I grew more ambitious as to what I wanted to accomplish, my level of anxiety also rose. Could I really do this? When I started my leave in January, I honestly gave myself a 25 percent chance that I was going to get this done.”
Beating these odds was no small feat for Bondari, who had to finish the piece with enough time to hand the baton to Kneer for the fall semester.
“I remember telling Joe, ‘my hard work is done, but yours is just beginning,” Bondari says.
Kneer has since been charged with placing the new symphony in the hands of Trinity’s student musicians, who typically have an entire semester to prepare to play works of this size.
“What’s cool about conducting a new piece is that nobody has done the stuff you’re trying to do before,” Kneer adds. “No one has dissected the best way to realize what Brian has written. These dots and lines on the page are a blueprint, and at best, they’re an approximation of what Brian wants. But what are the sounds, the colors, the moods that need to come to life to make this work?”
Answering these questions can be challenging when premiering an original piece. The collaboration between a composer, who dreams and creates the music, and a conductor, who helps turn it into a real sound, becomes essential. And while many universities commission the creation of new pieces to outside composers, Trinity has the luxury of having both composer and conductor work in-house. And not just in-house, but literally sharing a wall: both professors are hall neighbors in Dicke-Smith.
“We explored the idea of just drilling a hole in our wall,” Bondari says, while Kneer jokes that he had a couch put in his office so he could “play psychologist while Brian was stressed from composing.”
Thanks to this collaboration, Kneer didn’t receive a strange, difficult new piece of music. Rather, Bondari and Kneer worked together throughout the composition to make sure the piece would translate well for the students performing it. The pair worked together to shift instrumentation, even minute details such as the bowing patterns in the strings. They also shifted the key of the music here and there to make things smoother for the performers.
“Often times, in collaboration, composers can be bullheaded when receiving this type of feedback or questions about their work,” Kneer says. “It’s their creation, and it’s as close as Brian’s music can come to being his own child. But Brian has never been like that: he’s been open minded and willing to consider all sorts of options, which has made the process of bringing this piece life all the more easy.”
“And Joe has been very gracious and flexible about the development of this project, especially as it grew in size and creative scope,” Bondari adds.
Performing with Pride
Now that the piece has been finalized, this hard work is making life more fun for Trinity’s undergraduate performers.
“Brian’s writes very lyrically, and the students are really grabbing onto that and loving it,” Kneer says.
One of Bondari’s biggest fans is psychology major Macee Obermeyer ’22, a double bassist. She’s performed with at least two ensembles every semester since she got to Trinity.
“I play double bass because the bag is big enough to drag people around in,” Obermeyer deadpans. “When I move from home to school, I need two cars because my bass takes up its own vehicle. I’m passionate enough about this instrument that when the bass accidentally runs into something, you’ll hear me say ‘ow’ subconsciously.”
Obermeyer has also developed a personal connection to the “Trinity” symphony.
“I love the piece,” Obermeyer says. “It’s very dramatic, I love flair for the dramatics, and so I’m a big fan. It’s rhythmically challenging; it will change tempos and time signatures without you realizing it, but it’s not so hard that a newer player couldn’t do it.”
That mix of challenging and accessible material is crucial for the Trinity Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble which draws from the entire student body and includes both music majors and non-majors.
“We’re a symphony of different levels,” Obermeyer says. “You have people who’ve been playing for a long, long time, and you have other people who used to do this as kids and wanted to pick playing up again in college.”
Obermeyer says she’s thrilled that Trinity has given her the opportunity to break new musical ground with an original piece.
“It’s a pride for our symphony to have this entire production done within the Trinity community,” Obermeyer says. “It’s nice because everybody is able to come together, to premiere this piece for our own composer, using our own students and our own space. Full circle, it starts and finishes with Trinity. That’s why we take pride in the fact that we’re able to premiere it ourselves.”
All About the Journey
Kneer has already seen that pride pay dividends during rehearsals.
“We got to one moment that surprised me,” Kneer says. “The first time reading through the first movement, and it was lyrical, and it was beautiful, immediately. It really was gorgeous. It was this classic, Bondarian slow build. Our students had been reading and working away, as with any first reading, but they got to that moment, and there was suddenly this sense of, ‘oh, I understand this: I think I know what to do with this.’” Kneer says. “And at that moment, that’s made this entire experience of creating and performing a new piece worth it.”
And when Bondari finally gets to hear his work premiere at the Ruth Taylor Recital Hall on
Saturday, Oct. 19, all the pain, hard work, long nights, and stressful deadlines of creating an entire symphony will blissfully fade away.
“President Anderson talks about the ‘Trinity Journey,” Bondari says. “And writing a symphony, like any creative process, is a journey. You start with a blank page, but you have to know which notes you want to put down. The moment where you can go from just a glimpse to a full vision—that process, that journey, is worth it.”
Bondari says this creativity can take many forms beyond music. Ultimately, that’s how he wants to honor Trinity, a University that’s been creating and innovating across countless disciplines for 150 years.
“All it takes is one spark of vision to displace the chaos and create order, whether it’s in writing a symphony, planting a garden, founding a university, or purposefully taking one small step to improve our lives,” Bondari writes in his symphony notes. “We all have within us the potential to create, to envision a better future for ourselves and others, and then make it so. Here’s to the next 150 years.”
Couldn't make it to the concert? Watch the performance on Trinity's YouTube channel.