Inspired by Life
Aaron Mencher started writing music for fun while attending middle school in John’s Creek, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. He already had developed a love for music, playing the clarinet in his school’s band program since the fourth grade. Later, while a high school student, he saw an ad in his county newspaper about a small theater and asked if they needed pit musicians for musicals. The theater did not need musicians, but the owners told Mencher if he could write music, they had a job for him.
“They took me on at the age of 15 to write music for them, and I hung out at the theater every evening from the beginning of high school until the theater closed at the end of my junior year,” Mencher says. “I made so many good friends because actors are musicians but with a sense of humor.” He knew then that writing music was what he wanted to do.
Mencher continued to play the clarinet through middle school and high school and takes lessons on the side while attending the University of Missouri, but he says playing music has taken a back seat to composing because he enjoys writing more than playing. At the 2018 Chancellor’s Arts Showcase at the Missouri Theatre this month, he got to showcase both talents.
Sinquefield Composition Prize
Mencher says that although he had been writing music for years, he had no idea whether or not his compositions were good, so when he began applying to colleges, he applied to a lot of them, some of which were very expensive. His father suggested he look for scholarship opportunities and mentioned the Mizzou New Music Initiative, funded by Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield. Mencher applied and was invited to campus to audition for faculty.
The day he arrived in Columbia from Georgia, it snowed so much the university closed the campus, but Mencher says the faculty members asked campus police to open a couple of buildings, and his audition proceeded as planned. When he returned to campus during spring break he told himself, “This is where I’m going to school.” Three years later, Mencher is a junior and a Sinquefield Scholar at Mizzou, studying composition with postdoctoral fellow Carolina Heredia. Last fall, Mencher submitted “Bluish Orange,” a work written for flute, clarinet, and saxophone, to the Sinquefield Composition Prize competition and was selected for the prize by a panel of independent judges.
“The Sinquefield Prize is a true gem of our program, as it offers our students the opportunity to write for one of our large ensembles, have it premiered before the School of Music’s largest audience of the year, and be professionally recorded,” says Stefan Freund, professor of composition at the School of Music. “I believe Aaron’s piece was effective because it explored the colors of the wind ensemble, especially the contrast between the swirling runs in the woodwinds and the muscular fanfares in the brass.”
As the winner, Mencher got the opportunity to premier an original composition for the University Wind Ensemble; “Gravity” was conducted by Brian Silvey at the Chancellor’s Arts Showcase.
“It’s weird because I play in the wind ensemble regularly, so when I was given this opportunity, I thought, ‘I’ve played with this group for two and a half years, and now I get to write for my friends, and we’ll get to play it together,’” Mencher says.
Mencher says he also has had an opportunity to get to know his benefactor, Jeanne Sinquefield, visiting her homes in Westphalia and St. Louis and talking to her at various composition events.
“Aaron is a very talented composer, who in addition to winning the Sinquefield Prize is being commissioned by faculty to write pieces for flute and clarinet,” Sinquefield says.
In fact, Mencher says that within 48 hours of performing his piece at the Missouri Theatre April 9, he had been commissioned to write three large compositions.
“These opportunities, especially as a young composer, are incredibly hard to find,” he says. “It’s very helpful, because next year I’ll be applying to graduate programs, and they will be looking at these things. It’s a fabulous opportunity.”
Finding His Muse
Mencher says he tries to draw inspiration from his interests—movies, theater, visual art, and his life.
“I think there is something very personal about writing music, and I joke with my musician friends that you can see exactly what was going on in my life based on the kind of music I was writing,” he says. “In general, I look for something that makes me happy at that moment. Recently, it’s been visual art and books. I’m working with a friend on a big song cycle based on a book I enjoy.”
On April 29, Mencher will join student composers Dustin Dunn and Douglas Osmun, the 2017 Sinquefield Prize winner, at Powell Hall in St. Louis, where the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra will perform a new composition from each, including Mencher’s piece “Antrios.” The event is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Mizzou New Music Initiative.
This summer, Mencher will travel to Belgium for the International Clarinet Festival to fill in for a member of the MU clarinet quartet who is unable to attend the festival. While he enjoys playing music, his true passion is writing music.
“I just want to do something that draws my interest all of the time, and I find that being a composer is suited to me because I can do something different every day,” he says. “Every day is a new adventure.”