Michael J. Veloso ’98 is working towards a Master of Music in Composition at the New England Conservatory. As a WCFM DJ, he helped run two specialty shows, “Hard Habit to Break” and “I Got Ives in My Pants.” Winner of the Kleinhandler, Stanton and Barrow Awards during his time at Williams College, he is currently working on an orchestra piece called Discourse on Natural Proportions, and hopes to have his works Lightning Fields (for two pianos and percussion) and elegy (for john cage) (for indeterminate ensemble) performed at NEC in the near future.
Looking back, what did you take from your Williams education, artistically speaking?
I owe so much to my four years at Williams (not necessarily because of the College itself) that it’s nigh impossible to encapsulate. In a certain sense, I owe the very fact that I’m a composer to my experience at Williams, if not my education. I entered Williams with the expectation of doing a Bio/Chem major, or possibly Math. And thus, those were the three classes I took my first semester. I decided to fill the fourth with Music Theory, since I’d been playing the piano for a long time, and decided to learn something a little deeper about music. I loved it. Not the class, per se, but being more intimately involved with music than just listening and dabbling with playing.
What actually sparked my turn towards composition, however, was my roommate Kian [Bergstrom ’98]. One night, I was loudly hating a chemistry problem set when he told me I should become a music major. How serious he was, I don’t know, but he was right. Going to the concerts of new music that were put on by the Music Department excited me a great deal about composition, and my friend Brian Wecht ’97, a composer and sax player, encouraged me as well, in his own way. I hit full stride as a composer my senior year, my best and worst at Williams in different ways.
Best of all, Kenric [Taylor ’00] and I founded the Independent Music Project, a group of composers dedicated to putting on new music on campus – and for the first time I felt part of a musical community, that loved to discuss and argue not only music, but musico-politics. IMP’s influence on me as a composer and as a musician has probably been more profound than can be explained.
How has your background prepared you differently from other students at New England Conservatory? Do you feel out of place?
I feel that I have a very different musical background in general from the other Conservatory students, let alone educational – I barely listened to classical music at all before I got to Williams, and wasn’t composing seriously until late sophomore year. At first, I was afraid that this would be a setback, but now I honestly feel that my music can stand up to that of the other composers on campus, and that the sensibilities I developed listening to more popular kinds of music have had a positive effect on my music once I actively tried to acknowledge them.
I do feel out of place, mostly because I assume (perhaps wrongly) that the large majority of the students at NEC have been steeped in a classical music for their entire lives, did their undergrads and high-school things at high-powered conservatories. But it makes me feel like I have a larger view of the world than they do, more grown up, whether or not I’m justified.
How does the music scene at NEC differ from that at Williams? How is it better? How is it worse?
I’d say it’s far better. How many serious musicians does Williams have, who are making it the basis of their lives? This is said not to put down the people who aren’t as serious about music, but a simple comparison. NEC has over 700 enrolled students, at various levels. These people eat, sleep and breathe music. Concerts happen on an almost daily basis, and music of all eras is performed. Composers are given official new music concerts on which to put new music, about four to five every semester, functioning similarly to the Studio Recitals at Williams. Performers are dedicated and highly skilled. What more can one ask?
Do you feel like you’re in the “real world?” Or is graduate school merely another waystation?
I am most certainly not in the real world. I’m still a student, not a real person, and it’s frustrating, but I think it’s necessary – I still need a lot more experience as a composer. Grad school is a pretty supportive environment, and part of me is itching to get out there and prove myself in a less forgiving world. Only part of me, mind you.
Do you have any sense of being a part of a musical or general artistic community in Boston?
No, but that’s more my fault than anything else. There are quite a few new music groups running around in the area, and a lot of prominent schools with good music departments around. Whether they form part of a larger community remains to be seen.
What advice would you give to students at Williams who are involved in the arts?
Giving advice would be a bit pretentious, don’t you think, coming from someone who hasn’t yet established himself as an artist? But here goes: Make no concessions, whether you’re radical or conservative. Don’t be afraid to kick ass and take names. Just be careful of becoming masturbatory. I hate masturbatory art.