Funk or flunk

Silas Durocher prepares for his final exam

"It's just a world of difference to be composing for a class assignment that's never gonna get played and composing for a concert that's really gonna happen, with these real players who are incredible," says Silas Durocher.

Over bottled water and iced tea at a coffee shop, the New College senior chats about an experience last year that brought all the theory and composition he had learned into sharp focus. He penned two wind quintet pieces that were performed by a professional chamber music group as part of an annual collaboration between New College and the Florida West Coast Symphony. "We get to hear them rehearse it, and then we get to adjust things, and they get to tell us things like, 'My instrument can't do that,'" Durocher says.

The scruffy-bearded student used the experience of working with professional musicians as a springboard for his senior thesis project, which he'll unveil this Thursday. He began composing about a year ago, fine-tuned the pieces last fall during a semester in Spain and is now deep into practice for the big night.

"[It's] just been really complicated, way more complicated than I expected," he says, rattling off the difficulties: "Rehearsals, figuring out rehearsal space, getting the graphics done for the flyer, for the program, getting the printing done, just organizing everyone's schedules. But it's been cool, and the guys, the guys are just pretty incredible."

Durocher put together what he's calling The Sarasota Funk Quintet from a variety of sources. He scripted the parts to utilize his five favorite instruments — clarinet, guitar, cello, upright bass and drums — and then filled in the blanks. Handling the six-string himself, he met clarinetist Bharat Chandra during last year's wind quintet assignment and e-mailed John Miller — the symphony's principal bassist — after being blown away when he witnessed a chamber performance. A friend suggested Florida Orchestra cellist and MCC prof Sasha von Dassow. Drummer Devin Neel stepped behind the kit when Durocher's mate in previous rock bands Stone Soup and Shakedown had to back out.

Chandra signed on because of an affinity with one of Durocher's main goals: to bridge the mutually suspicious camps of pop and classical. "I feel like there's a formal aspect to composition which is essential and has been important in so much of the musical composition that happens," Chandra says, "and the things that I'm looking for that excite me are the things which take that formality and bring it in touch with spontaneity and sincerity."

"A lot of what I'm seeking is accessibility to a wide range of people," says Durocher, who only wrote and played rock before coming to New College. Getting his degree meant a new level of composition; most rock songs don't need a 31-page essay as backup.

Still, it's ultimately about how the audience relates to the music. "If they pick up that there's a fugue going on — great, that's cool," he says. "But I'm turned off by sort of academic music where you have to read a book before you listen to the piece."

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