When first-year Fordham College at Rose Hill student Sage Rochetti became a music major, she hoped to try her hand at composing. She never thought she’d get to work directly alongside some of the most in-demand professional musicians in New York City. 

“It’s a really great opportunity that I never even thought was possible,” she said.

Rochetti unveiled her piece alongside seven other student musicians at the Fordham Composers Concert, held on May 1 at Fordham Lincoln Center’s 12th-Floor Lounge. The annual event is the culmination of a semester’s work, where students develop their new pieces with top professionals who rehearse, provide advice, and ultimately perform the compositions for a live audience.  

Working at a Professional Level 

Fordham student composers watch a lecture on music notation
Composition students prepare to have their pieces played.

The Fordham Composers Workshop is a one-of-a-kind combination of theory and practice designed to give undergraduate students the experience of creating an original concert work at the professional level. Each student is assigned a different ensemble of three instruments to write for, culminating in a five-minute piece played on some combination of flute, clarinet, oboe, violin, or cello. 

The students then workshop the piece through multiple drafts which are read and played throughout the semester by members of the Exponential Ensemble —a chamber music collective made up of some of the most in-demand musicians in the New York City region.

“We’re working with professional musicians,” said Daniel Ott, D.M.A., associate professor of music theory and composition and chair of the art history and music department, who teaches the class. “It’s a really rare opportunity to get that hands-on experience when you’re a student.”

The format of the class is both lecture and workshop, as Ott spends half of the class time outlining classical composition principles and techniques. The other half allows students to engage directly with the instrumentalists, who offer insights and critiques on everything from the sonic impact of a key change to the proper way to notate specialty sounds like a flute growl.

“It’s not like any other regular class,” said Elena Smith, a senior music major at Fordham College at Rose Hill. “The structure of it is really different. It’s more interactive.”

Opening New Possibilities

Sage Rochetti prepares her music for rehearsal.

The first Composers Workshop class was held in 2013. Since then, the small performances in the 50-seat Veronica Lally Kehoe Studio Theatre have grown to become an integral and vital part of artistic life on campus. In 2018, the final concert had its largest attendance to date when the student composers’ pieces were inspired by artworks from Fordham visual arts students. In 2020, during the pandemic, student works were still performed by the musicians despite their having to do so online —a monumental task that involved separate recordings of each part for every piece.

The class continues to be a highlight for students who relish the opportunity to combine academic rigor with personal expression.

“You just have complete creative freedom to create whatever you want with your music,” said Henry Domenici, a senior music major. “I really have enjoyed the opportunity to get to do that for a class.”