Composing His Voice At 15 Years Old, Robby Good Writes An Original Composition For The LA Philharmonic

by | Mar 25, 2016 | Closeup

After two years of studying, months of writing and a lifetime of dreaming, 15-year-old Robby Good was on the cusp of his big moment.  From the stage of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, he watched the Los Angeles Philharmonic slowly wake up their instruments.  In a ripple of sound, the first cords emanated from the pit and slowly filled the concert hall with layers of music.  Each instrument’s part wove together with the next one, creating a swell of emotional sound.  The build was upon them, and Robby watched as the orchestra exalted in a flurry of choreographed motion.  And then – silence.  A roar of applause.  And everything changed.  Robby no longer had to dream of becoming a composer; now his challenge was to become one of the greats.
At age 13, Robby made his stage debut when he arranged and conducted a medley of songs from the “Legend of Zelda” video game series for an orchestra of 65 peer musicians from Placerita Junior High School.  Soon after, he was recognized by Assemblyman Scott Wilk for his dedication to music composition.  And when his musical mentors urged him to apply for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Composer Fellowship Program, he could only hope his piece would one day be selected for performance by the country’s most prestigious philharmonic.  But it was worth a shot.
“I had butterflies,” Robby said.  “This was one of the biggest programs I could possibly be a part of.”
Robby began the arduous fellowship application process.  Two original pieces, four essays and a panel interview later, Robby was chosen from about 50 applicants throughout California, along with three other boys: Benjamin Champion, Luca Mendoza and Ethan Treiman.
Just starting at Hart High School, Robby commenced a two-year program that would culminate in a performance of their original compositions by the LA Philharmonic.  Led by renowned composer Andrew Norman, the comprehensive program included a variety of lessons, projects and commitments.
“The fellowship helped me get a solid grip on the different compositions, expanding the world of music and helping me discover what I like,” Robby said.  “We met with musicians and got inside knowledge about what they liked to play, as well as things we shouldn’t do when we write compositions for their instruments.”
The fellows attended three-hour sessions in composition study, received assignments, led peer review workshops and met one-on-one with musicians in each section of the orchestra to learn the complexities of their instruments and the nuances of their roles.  Learning classical and contemporary compositions, working with composition greats, and observing top-notch musicians, Robby eventually began to feel like he’d found where he belonged.
“At the time, I didn’t feel comfortable writing my own music,” Robby said.  “But I experimented with the different music we studied, and I began to work it into what I could already write.  I started to figure out what I liked.
“It works its way into your head,” Robby continued, “and eventually, you think, ‘OK, I can do this.’”
And he did.  For their final project, each fellow was tasked with writing a 90-second original composition, to be worked into the LA Philharmonic’s performance of the Gustav Holst’s The Planets during the annual Symphony for Schools performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“Each movement represents a different planet,” Robby explained.  “Our job was to write something about a planet Gustav Holst didn’t know about when he first wrote the composition.”
Inspired by his friend Jeffrey Xu’s knowledge of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, the two began research.  Marked by oceans of methane and volcanoes that shoot ice, Titan’s tumultuous weather patterns create the flow of methane in a similar way that water flows through Earth.  Inspired by the movement on the planet’s surface, Robby got to work on the baseline of his melody.
“I picked up a melody I’d written a while back but never found a use for, needled it out at the tempo, and it fit exactly within my time limit,” Robby recalled of writing Titan: Saturn IV.  “I had a plan.  I could hear it in my head: this small, moving melody surrounded by low cords made to sound like an ocean.  Then this swell of a giant cord, and all the instruments would lower – like the massive eruption of a volcano.”
It took Robby about two weeks to write the baseline.  Working out the kinks took another two weeks, and perfecting it took another month.  In two months, he was ready for the LA Phil.
On February 4 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Robby listened to the performance of Titan: Saturn IV along with his family, friends, mentors and peers, and he was more sure than ever that he knew what he wanted to do.
“It’s been a childhood dream of mine to write music for a film or video game, and having an opportunity like this is slowly making that seem more and more possible,” Robby said.  “This program helped me to find my voice.  Of all the fellows, I’m probably the most tonal, the most melodic.  Luca loves experimenting, and Ben has no boundaries to what he writes.  Ethan is the most romantic.  In the end, the most important thing about writing music is to write what you want.  You don’t need musical theory or a huge opportunity.  Writing music is really just a way of making yourself happy – and sharing that with others.”
For more information about the Los Angeles Philharmonic student programs, please visit www.laphil.com/education.  

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