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Student Highlights - The Composers

Philip Trembley is a percussionist and a composer. But ne’er the twain meet.

He is passionate about percussion because of its diversity, versatility and challenge. Percussion instruments — from timpani, tambourine and triangle to marimba and vibraphone — provide “a full spectrum of sound.” A percussion performance is as exciting to hear as it is to watch.

“You have to practice 10 times more because of the different instruments and their respective techniques,” says Trembley, a fourth-year music major who came to UMaine from Newport, Vt., to study with percussionist and Professor of Music Stuart Marrs. “I spend time learning to play rather than composing for it.”

When it’s mood and emotion he wants to evoke, Trembley prefers to compose for other instruments.

“It’s hard to get emotions out through percussion instruments,” Trembley says. “It’s always good to walk out of a concert hall having heard a piece that sounds cool, but it’s a whole other thing to hear a work that moves you to tears or makes you think. That’s the kind of music I’m drawn to personally and what influences my compositional style.”

Trembley, whose influences include composers such as Philip Glass, Rachmaninoff, James Horner and Ihsahn, who founded the Norwegian black metal band Emperor, writes most in the 20th-century contemporary classical genre, but also actively performs and composes within the underground rock and metal genres.

“My compositions tend to be on the darker side,” Trembley admits. “I’m more attracted to darker sounds, which is why in percussion I’m drawn to timpani the most. If you hear one of my pieces, chances are you’ll hear it in a minor as opposed to a major key.”

For Trembley, composing often begins by making two decisions: the mood to convey and instruments to use.

“I like to play the melody in my head, starting on piano. Then I switch through brass and woodwind and strings, hearing what strikes me as the best sound for this particular melody. The best part is I can do this while driving or walking to class.”

The piano was the instrument that started Trembley in music. When he was 7, his mother suggested piano lessons as “an important part of growing up.”

“I didn’t agree then, but I do now,” he says.

From piano, Trembley moved to the saxophone and other instruments. But at 12, he informed his parents he wanted to be a drummer.

Then as a high school junior, Trembley took a course in the use of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) and wrote his first compositions. In Terrorem for string quartet was performed in Vermont as part of the MIDI project. One of his favorite compositions is a work for brass quintet called The Alarum, depicting the heat of battle.

When he graduates next year, Trembley plans to attend graduate school to pursue his other passion — digital recording. His goal is a career that would allow him to be a freelance performer, composer and recording engineer.

“I’m particularly interested in the technology behind recording. It’s great as a composer to come up with an idea, record it and be able to change this or that. It’s all connected.”

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