Creativity thrives on uncertainty, says Justin Rubin, professor of music. "I think a lot of times artists, especially between the ages of 18 and 22, came into creating because they liked something that they were familiar with. They imitate something. After a while, they need to branch out so that they discover more about themselves, almost push away things that they're familiar with."
This philosophy led to Tyler Jameson Pimm's very first flight, one that took him from the great northwoods into the New Mexico desert and from imitation to inspiration. He took on an Undergraduate Research Project (UROP) that transcended culture and enhanced creativity. And it was empowered, in part, by a dichotomy.
Change has been a constant in Tyler's life. The Janesville, Wisc., native started out as an engineering major at UW-Platteville but found himself practicing music more than crunching numbers, so he switched majors. This facilitated the discovery that it was actually writing music that intrigued him, so he transferred to UMD to study music theory and composition with Justin Rubin.
Tyler likens composing music to painting a picture, saying there are different layers of ideas. A layer he'd started incorporating, Native American idioms, was taken to the next level when he met New Mexico State University Assistant Professor Rhonda Taylor during her visit to UMD last fall.
The UMD New Mexico partnership was an intercollegiate collaboration initiated by Justin, who had connections from his own work in New Mexico. When Rhonda invited Bulldogs to work with her students, Tyler accepted with a UROP.
Justin says traveling to New Mexico was the perfect opportunity for Tyler to authenticate his research. "I think that it's important that if you study a culture, you breathe that air. You go to that place. You can't look at it on a screen, you can't look at it in a book, you have to actually go there."
Tyler laid the groundwork for his trip by discovering the characteristics of Native American music and transcribing it, picking up on the different scales and approximations of notes. He would use this to animate his work, not to duplicate. He says, "The whole point of this research project was not to mimic the music, it was to draw ideas from the music and create new possibilities."
Tyler spent months composing his music, listening and writing, before taking what he thought was a final project to New Mexico State University. But when he got to Las Cruses and started working with the musicians, he quickly realized that the music sounded better in his head than it did in real life. He tweaked some things until it was just right, and says this experience exemplified what sets a UROP apart from the classroom, "I actually experienced composition rather than just learning about it, and the experience was a necessary component."
Tyler capped off a week in the Land of Enchantment with a performance of his music. A few months later, the UROP pieces reemerged as an encore performance at his senior recital. Justin called them the most powerful pieces of the evening. "It was moving because I saw things come full circle. He learned while he was at UMD, he went to New Mexico and learned, he brought the music back. It doesn't get anymore interesting to me than that. You really have a student who's feeding on so many things and having an experience that they never would have thought about having."
Beginning grad school at Northern Illinois University this fall is the end of a creative partnership between Tyler and his UMD professor, but not before one more lesson from Justin. "One thing that I try to impress upon him is 'don't stop here.' When you start to learn something and you're now creating from it, move forward into it."
Indeed, Tyler says the UROP will go with him, serving as a foundation for what's next. "Some composers are ethnomusicologists," he says. "I think that's what I'm doing-- using it to inform my music. It doesn't stop here; I've learned some skills that help me do that. Now I just need to keep honing those skills."
Story by Lori C. Melton, June 2015
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