When Seth Morton enrolled at the University of Maine in 2002, he was torn between two passions. He majored in music his first year, then “chemistry won out.” Sort of.
“I can’t imagine not doing music,” says the fifth-year senior chemistry major from Lewiston, Maine, “but I decided I was more interested in writing stuff so others could sound really good. I’m not a soloist. I have a band sound. It’s like how some choral performers sound better in a group than by themselves.”
Morton is a tuba player in four UMaine music groups — the Pep, Marching and Symphonic bands, and the Brass Ensemble. At UMaine athletic events, the Pep and Marching bands have performed nearly 30 of his musical arrangements.
Last November, the 63-piece Symphonic Band debuted his original composition, The Passing of the Torch, a work depicting the setting of the sun and rising of the moon that took him a year to perfect.
“The Passing of the Torch is my favorite because I put so much into it,” Morton says. “It also was outside of the box for me. In the words of Beth Wiemann, I’m usually very conservative when it comes to composing: I like to stay in one key, maintain a very simple chord structure and stay with things I know. With “The Passing of the Torch,” I tried to move away from that and get out of my comfort zone. What I wrote is a very difficult piece. I put it in a key with a lot of flats and intentionally wrote hard parts for effect. I wanted it to be challenging and fun for the band, and exciting for the listener. I want it to produce goose bumps.”
Morton has been composing and arranging music since ninth grade, about the time he turned from his sax to a piano. “I’d practice,” Morton says, “but not what I was supposed to. Instead of classical pieces, I’d usually make up things. I was listening a lot to Jim Brickman at the time, playing in his style.”
One day he asked his school’s band director to let him borrow a tuba for a week. With the help of one of his uncles, Morton learned to play it in that time. The tuba quickly became his favorite instrument because it has “the lowest voice in the band.”
“It’s got a very dark sound and a huge range for a brass instrument,” Morton says.
In his junior and senior years in high school, Morton did an arrangement of Amazing Grace for the school chorus and wrote A New Day on Saturn, an original composition, for the band. They were his first large works incorporating more than one texture or instrument.
For Morton, composing and arranging is a colorful process.
“I visualize my music just as I do chemical structures,” he says. “Both have color. Different chemical compounds I assign different colors depending on what’s in them or what they do. In music, there are colors in my head depending on the mood or key or style.”
Following graduation this spring, Morton is headed to graduate school. But again, he’s torn between fields of study — chemistry and nuclear engineering.
His goal is to one day teach general chemistry at the college level. And to get some of his arrangements and original compositions published.
“Musically, my goal is to have some band call me and say they really like my stuff. Even if it’s an elementary school band. In fact, I would like to write elementary band music because there’s just not that much good stuff out there. It’s like drawing rainbows with three colors instead of a box of 64 colors.”