Pandemic pursuit: how Piper Rutman explored passion for music composition, plans for future

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Photo credit: Oona Seppala

Piper Rutman leads the Unaccompanied Minors in a rehearsal before the winter concert preview. Rutman is the a cappella group manager and has arranged many songs for the group. “I want my music to be spark emotions in a good way and be that sad or happy or whatever,” Rutman said.

By Oona Seppala, Staff Reporter

While many had little to do over the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, senior Piper Rutman took advantage of this time to explore new avenues within music and take steps towards her dream of becoming a film composer. During the lockdown, Rutman spent her free time composing and arranging her own music.

“When COVID hit, for a lot of people it was a really debilitating time because there was no contact with other people. But for me, it was actually a big period of growth,” Rutman said. “Whenever I wasn’t doing homework or online during school, all I was doing was arranging music. That’s all I did in my free time.”

Rutman has always been a music enthusiast, contributing to many of Archer’s accomplishments and “firsts” in the music department, such as founding the middle school a cappella group, The Middle C’s. Rutman has also had her voice featured in film and television for Netflix and Dreamworks on ABC’s A Million Little Things.  

Rutman started writing her own music with her father when she was 13 and wrote her first piece of original music with her father for her Bat Mitzvah. The song was an original melody for a prayer that had never been put to song by anyone in the Jewish community before. During lockdown, the Platt Brothers reached out to Rutman asking if they could have an arrangement of her original melody for their online event. It eventually gained attention in the Jewish community, and many temples began including it as part of their service. 

“During COVID, [the song] had a major effect on people because it was something that could bring people together in a period where everyone was separate. And now, seeing it bring communities together in person is really nice to see,” Rutman said. “It’s amazing to watch something that I created on the piano in my living room go everywhere — it’s crazy.”

Rutman’s father is a film composer, so composing music was a part of her upbringing. Though she attributes much of her interest in music to him, she said her passion also stems from her genuine love for the art form.

“It has always been my dream from such a young age,” Rutman said, “so even though he encouraged me and supported me throughout my life, I’ve been pushing myself to pursue it.”

“It’s my dream for me, so even though he encouraged me and supported me throughout my life, I’ve been pushing myself to pursue it””

— Piper Rutman

Performing Arts Department Chair Hannah O’Connor has been Rutman’s teacher for the past four years at Archer, teaching her in choir, a cappella and the Advanced Study Music Styles and Composition course. O’Connor said she recognized early on that Rutman was passionate about music and hoped to apply her learning outside Archer. 

“In my first year here, there were really no students who were writing arrangements,” O’Connor said. “I think that younger students seeing Piper write a lot of arrangements and having them be performed has really inspired them in that they could do the same thing if they put their mind to it” 

After the lockdown was lifted and everyone returned back to school, Rutman used the skills she built during the lockdown to continue writing and arranging music at Archer. Working on arranging and composing music during lockdown allowed for her to explore different styles and create the building blocks for what she is working on today.

Recently, Rutman wrote 10 minutes of original music for the Advanced Study Music Styles and Composition course, including a jazz standard arrangement, an original melody for a poem written by Coco Greene and another piece of original music for the Night of Dance, inspired by its theme: “Timeless”.

“I think my composing process is a lot different than other people because most composers have an instrument that they play,” Rutman said, “and I’m in a different world because I’m a pop singer, but I write classical music”

Rutman’s role in choir and a cappella expands beyond singing; she is the assistant choir director and a cappella group manager. Freshman Emerson Cohen works alongside Rutman on the music leadership team where they take attendance for the class and occasionally lead classes when the teacher is absent. Cohen said it has been inspiring having a role model to look up to in music. 

“Seeing Piper actively pursue [music] at Archer and seeing someone who’s so accomplished is really inspiring,” Cohen said. “It definitely creates an environment where I can strive to achieve what she has done.”

This year, Rutman was selected for the LA Phil Composer Fellowship Program as a 2022-23 fellow. This is a merit-based, tuition-free program where fellows are led by world renowned composers to gain the skills of music composition. Rutman said she values the skills she has learned from her variety of experiences and hopes students continue to compose and arrange music. Rutman will major in music at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern after graduating in the spring, transitioning into the next phase in her music career. She plans to continue writing original music of all styles in the years to come.

 “I hope that I’ve inspired the younger students to continue writing [music] and arranging [music],” Rutman said. “I feel like the student involvement behind the scenes rather than just performance only is really important in developing the music program”.