Thursday, June 12, 2008

New concert work memorializes teen’s bright spirit

New concert work memorializes teen’s bright spirit

Rachel Baruch Yackley
Posted Daily Herald, Monday, May 21, 2007
It’s a piece that’s based on her life. And, in a way, on her name.

“Angels With Dirty Faces,” a new concert piece commissioned for the St. Charles East High School Wind Ensemble, will be performed Tuesday during a memorial concert for Nicole Alaniz.

“Angels” was written by composer Jim Bonney in memory of Alaniz, a student at East, who died in a car accident last June. Alaniz would have been a senior this year.

This composition will be one of two songs performed by the wind ensemble, directed by Jim Kull, during the concert. All the East bands will perform in the 8 p.m. show at the school.

Alaniz, who played flute in the wind ensemble,  was also a member of the National Honor Society and captain of the debate team.

At a recent band rehearsal, three flutists who knew Alaniz, both through school bands and through years of studying flute with the same teacher — Lynne Green in St. Charles — spoke about playing this piece in memory of their friend and classmate.

Senior Sarah Whiting said, “I think she would have liked this song, because it’s different than what we usually play.”

“This is definitely her personality,” said Kirsten Benjamin, another senior in the wind ensemble. “It’s minimalistic, with layers of rhythm on top of each other.”

“It’s definitely a concert-band-meets-Nicole-Alaniz piece,” said sophomore Kim Kessler.

Playing this piece is unquestionably challenging emotionally, as well as musically.

“It’s a really strange feeling,” Benjamin said.

Eyes welling up, Whiting said, “I think we’d all rather she were sitting here playing with us.”

Music was definitely one of Alaniz’s passions.

After Alaniz died, fellow East band members met and decided to hire composer Bonney to write an upbeat song in remembrance of Alaniz’s bright personality.

The Chicago composer was chosen because the students have worked with him in the past.

“Very soon after Nicole’s accident, Jim Kull wanted to do something to memorialize her,” Bonney said.

“The thing Jim told me was, ‘We really want it to be your piece; and we want a celebration of life, not a dirge.’ I read her obituary and talked with some of her friends. I got some e-mails from students (who knew Alaniz). I heard the wind ensemble this past winter, in 2006. I talked with her dad, which was so moving. But you really can’t get to know someone after they’re gone.”

It was hard to write an uplifting piece, Bonney said.

“It’s a thoughtful piece,” he said. “It’s not a dirge, but it’s not vapid, either.”

In addition to her musical pursuits, Alaniz also loved to write, and Bonney said that the title of this composition actually came from something she wrote.

“Originally, I wanted to do a piece using what she’d written, but I couldn’t get enough material,” he said.

Bonney composed this piece for concert band. His process of composing is multi-dimensional.

“The first thing is I took the alphabet and assigned a note, A through G, to each letter of Nicole’s name. So the tune is based on her name,” he said. “It really struck me that she was just 17 years old. I used the number 17 a lot in the music ... groupings of 17. It’s those kind of limitations that make composing possible. Then, it was just about capturing her spirit.”

Instrumentation came through next, as Bonney added an electric guitar and percussion to the ensemble.

“I also feature flute pretty predominantly. That’s another part of Nicole I wanted to feature. The flute starts the piece, and the rest (of the band) follows,” he said.

Bonney incorporated rock and other music genres into the piece.

“This particular piece was inspired musically by John Adams, Steve Reich — both minimalists — and My Chemical Romance, The Clash, Panic! at the Disco, and other visceral musicians,” he said.

A versatile contemporary musician and composer, Bonney has written avant-garde symphonic orchestral scores; traditional jazz big-band charts; pop; rock; world-beat; and contemporary electronica.

Kull said that this is the second time East has commissioned a song for a student who died at a young age. The first was “The Echo Never Fades,” a piece written by David Gillingham and commissioned in memory of 17-year-old East student and saxophonist Tyler Caruso, who died in 2002.

Memorial concerts

•The Nicole Alaniz Memorial Concert is at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium at the Norris Cultural Arts Center, 1040 Dunham Road,  St. Charles. This band concert is open to the public, and tickets are $3 for adults and $2 for seniors and students.

•The annual concert dedicated to the memory of Tyler Caruso will be at 7 p.m. May 31 in Lincoln Park. “The Echo Never Fades,” a piece written by David Gillingham and commissioned by the St. Charles East Wind Ensemble, is always a centerpiece for the concert. This concert is sponsored by the St. Charles Park District and the Downtown St. Charles Partnership. Lincoln Park is located along Main Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.

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