A new ‘precedent in the music department’: Camila Blank as Winter Concert’s first student composer

Sophomore+Camila+Blank+conducts+the+orchestra+to+her+piece%2C+The+Carousel.+Each+rehearsal%2C+there+is+typically+a+20-25+minute+period+of+playing+The+Carousel+where+Blank+makes+note+corrections%2C+checks+for+intonation+and+makes+sure+the+orchestra+plays+as+one.+Even+just+being+at+Archer+and+having+chances+to+be+a+leader+in+smaller+ways+and+gain+those+skills%2C+Blank+said.+Thats+been+really+helpful+for+building+up+to+larger+things+like+this.

Photo credit: Maia Alvarez

Sophomore Camila Blank conducts the orchestra to her piece, “The Carousel.” Each rehearsal, there is typically a 20-25 minute period of playing “The Carousel” where Blank makes note corrections, checks for intonation and makes sure the orchestra plays as one. “Even just being at Archer and having chances to be a leader in smaller ways and gain those skills,” Blank said. “That’s been really helpful for building up to larger things like this.”

By Maia Alvarez, Staff Reporter

Distant dissonances and eerie chords — the entire upper school orchestra comes together to play as one. The piece was composed and conducted by sophomore Camila Blank.

During last year’s music styles and composition class, Blank learned how to use her musical ability to compose an original piece. Upon Orchestra Director Susan Smith’s suggestion from last spring, the piece will now be on the repertoire for this year’s upcoming concert.

“[There’s] lots of tempo changes and lots of themes and really beautiful tension and release and dissonances that keep the listener engaged,” Smith said. “I think this is going to be a real treat for the audience to hear.” 

The piece, currently titled “The Carousel,” is a mix of sounds from the romantic era, modern era and Blank’s favorite soundtracks, such as Howl’s Moving Castle to create a piece from a completely unheard-of genre.

“I have seen her just evolve into this incredibly strong woman with a strong sense of self, who is branching out into these different areas of music, of composing and running sectionals, and now conducting. I think she’s just really come into her own, musically speaking.””

— Susan Smith

“It’s just more about the type of feelings or the type of mood that I wanted to convey – or the type of pieces that inspired me – that I would want to play,” Blank said. “I really like magical, maybe a little dark type of sounds … a little bit mysterious.”

During the final part of last year’s semester, Blank learned to synthesize her violinist abilities alongside theory skills, composition techniques and confidence-building to create a piece of her own. Blank was free to explore and create by adding dissonances, chords and sounds she wished to play.

“It’s more about what you hear — the type of sound you want to have — and then you figure out how to create that. And if it has dissonant chords, it has dissonant chords,” Blank said.

Composing the piece has also given Blank a greater leadership role within the upper school orchestra. She now leads sectionals and the entire orchestra when conducting her piece in rehearsals, just as she will for the concert. Blank said being a part of orchestra has given her the support to step into greater leadership roles.

“When I wasn’t feeling so good about my solo stuff, I could always go to the orchestra and have a lot of fun,” Blank said. “And that would always make me feel a little better, a little more confident in myself.”

Blank has been a part of the school’s orchestra program since she first came to Archer in 6th grade. At the age of 7, Blank started participating in private lessons, so she had a strong musical foundation before coming onto Archer’s campus. Yet, Smith described the exponential growth she had seen from Blank since the sixth grade.

“I have seen her just evolve into this incredibly strong woman with a strong sense of self, who is branching out into these different areas of music, of composing and running sectionals, and now conducting,” Smith said. “I think she’s just really come into her own, musically speaking.”

Each week in rehearsal, the upper school orchestra members rehearse their repertoire of pieces as Blank conducts her own piece only. Soloist for “The Carousel”, freshman Natalie Huang, said she admires Blank’s musical and leadership growth throughout this journey of “The Carousel” and hopes to honor her composition in the solo.

“For me, Camila has always been an inspiration because she’s been really good at violin ever since I’ve known her,” Huang said. “As she gets better, I feel like I need to get better too.”

Student composition in the music program is something not often seen on Archer’s campus. However, Arts Department Chair and teacher of the music styles and composition class Hannah O’Connor explained how Blank is one of the students who has created a precedent for musical composition in Archer’s future.

“I would say that Camila and Piper Rutman, who both are very interested in composition, are the first students, in my time, that have really taken this initiative of ‘let me write music beyond for just myself. Let me write music for the ensembles and showcase this music and hopefully inspire other students to start writing music,’” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said that Blank, alongside student composer and junior Piper Rutman, came to her with the desire to arrange the song “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA, which is the finale piece that will wrap up the concert. In the future, O’Connor explained that she envisions acapella writing their own music, and for students as a whole to gain a passion and dedication for writing, composing and leading musically.

“If students are interested in composition, we have a responsibility to help them showcase that here,” O’Connor said. “We always are looking to showcase student talent and I believe that that’s more than just performing. It’s in composition, it’s in conducting, it’s in every facet of music that they can possibly explore.”

Blank plays in honor of the 'Rock' exhibit taking place in the Eastern Star Gallery. "I can't wait to see what else is going to come musically from Camila," Smith said.
Blank plays in honor of the “Rock” exhibit taking place in the Eastern Star Gallery. “I can’t wait to see what else is going to come musically from Camila,” Smith said. (Photo credit: Maia Alvarez)

Smith elaborated on how risk-taking and having the courage to branch out to new mediums is thanks to Archer’s community.

“We truly encourage students to take leadership positions and step outside of their comfort zone and try it out. This is a safe space to do it,” Smith said. “You have all the encouragement and all the … teachers to help you with that.” 

In Blank’s future of creating compositions, she hopes to integrate more of her cultural background.

“From my background — I’m half Argentinian — I wanted to try out a tango style type of thing. I’m also half Asian, so having more Asian style influences [and] maybe having even a combination of those,” Blank said.

The winter concert takes place January 12, 13 and 14, and thus, Blank continues to conduct the upper school orchestra and gather ideas for future compositions.

“I just want to try everything,” Blank said. “I really love music, you know?”