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Music conference shares contemporary compositions online

Chelsea Shankles presented her contemporary composition project at the Research on Contemporary Composition (ROCC) conference in October. The part-virtual and part-traditional conference was Oct. 24-25.

When Chelsea Shankles saw the title "Quirkhead" by Nina Shekhar, she was a little intrigued. When the University of North Georgia (UNG) student learned the song was about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Shankles was even more fascinated.

"I know people who have OCD and they tell me about it," said the senior pursuing a degree in music with an instrumental performance concentration. "Then when I listened to the piece, I was really interested. She used a string quartet for the underlying chaos and the soprano as the person with OCD."

Shankles selected that piece for her contemporary composition project. Once she interviewed the composer, she decided to present her findings at the Research on Contemporary Composition (ROCC) conference in October.

"I found this topic so interesting and I thought more people should hear it and see how it relates to things happening today during this pandemic," Shankles said.

She and a handful of students presented their research during the part-virtual and part-traditional conference Oct. 24-25. On the first day, the conference was broadcast on YouTube with five research presentations interspersed among 31 contemporary compositions pre-recorded and 10 performed by UNG faculty members Tia Roper, Dr. Benjamin Schoening, Vivian Doublestein, Serena Scibelli, and Jose Manuel Garcia.

On the second day, Dr. David Peoples took participants for an in-person walk in Tumbling Creek Woods with the contemporary compositions playing from Bluetooth speakers strapped into backpacks. During the 2-hour hike, 16 pieces were presented.

"I actually started doing hiking concerts before the pandemic," said Peoples, adjunct professor of music at UNG. "It's a bit unorthodox, but it's a unique way to enjoy new music."

Peoples explained the selected pieces were from working professionals with some from recent graduates and others working in academia. Those were narrowed down from 400 submissions, which is significantly more than last year's 60 submissions. Peoples attributed the increase to the conference being free and online. He also credited the virtual concerts to an increase in attendees.

"Knowing there were 40 composers having their music performed and knowing they have their own crowd of fans, there were more participants," he said.

Sharing contemporary composers with those fans and UNG students is the main purpose of the ROCC conference.

"Living composers are looking for different things," Peoples said. "Music within the past 15 years may sound avant-garde, but a lot of different kinds of music are being done. What they are doing, that's new today."

Peoples and Dr. Esther Morgan-Ellis founded the conference in fall 2017 by combining two similar events. Peoples hosted a conference for current composers to present new music while Morgan-Ellis sponsored an internal symposium for students to present research on contemporary composition.

Shankles is glad they merged the events into the ROCC conference.

"I couldn't wait to hear what the other students had to present, because I was so focused on my project," said the 21-year-old from Flowery Branch, Georgia. "I was excited to see what they had."

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