Joel Kirk – PhD in Composition

What's been your favorite experience as a Music student at UB?

Oh, where to begin?! 

Since arriving at UB, I have had the exciting opportunity to have my pieces workshopped and recorded by many professional, internationally renowned ensembles such as The Arditti Quartet, ELISION, HANATSU-Miroir, and Yarn/Wire. I have also been fortunate enough to regularly work with members of the Slee Sinfonietta; a collective of “home-grown” professional performers who live and work in the Buffalo/Rochester area. The Slee Sinfonietta will be playing a piece of mine at the June in Buffalo Festival this year; a celebrated contemporary music festival which has existed here in Buffalo since 1975. These opportunities at UB have helped me to build my academic CV and apply for opportunities outside of the UB sphere. This Summer, I am looking forward to travelling to Italy to meet and work with the Divertimento Ensemble at their 3rd International Workshop for Young Composers. I am also having pieces of mine played in the USA, France, and Australia. 

In addition, the composition department at UB encourages a somewhat entrepreneurial mindset in our approach to music making. Alongside writing for visiting guest artists, we are encouraged to write pieces of music for each-other and form our own small ensembles to workshop, rehearse and perform each-other’s pieces. We have been able to record and perform these at live-broadcast concerts from the Slee Concert Hall on campus. This highlights the need to develop skills of virtuosity, communication and networking in the academic world; skills which will come in useful when attaining and sustaining academic careers. 

Have you had any opportunities for one-to-one mentorship?

Yes! There have been plenty of opportunities available in the UB music department for one-to-one mentorship on my work. Primarily, I meet with my composition professor, David Felder, regularly to discuss the progress of my current projects. As an established, successful composer with decades of teaching experience, Prof Felder is able to frame the key concepts of my work even better than I can. Through this framing, he outlines useful and stimulating paths of research development which I can follow to improve my work. I have also benefited from one-to-one meetings with musicology, theory, and music technology professors here at UB; whenever I have turned to faculty for guidance with any of my academic pursuits at UB (composition-related or otherwise), I have found it and reaped the rewards. 

The UB composition department also has multiple guest visitors each semester who give masterclasses on student work and presentations on their own work. Since arriving at UB, I have had the opportunity to present my music to renowned composers such as Ann Clear, Marcos Balter, and Aaron Holloway-Nahum. All of these masterclasses have been delivered as part of the “Composition Seminar” class at UB; these are weekly seminars in which all of the graduate-study composers meet and discuss their work alongside current pertinent issues in the wider world of new music. This fosters a constructive, creative environment with an ethos of friendship and academic excellence at its heart. The “community” atmosphere of the composition department at UB has led my work in exciting directions I would not have considered had I not been here.

How has your time in the UB Department of Music prepared you for the future?

Although I still have two years left here, the UB Department of Music has definitely set me on the right course to develop and sustain a career in the music field. As previously mentioned, the UB music composition program fosters a versatile, entrepreneurial mindset to suit the highly competitive academic world of the 21st Century. The wealth of teaching experience I have gained here as a teaching assistant and, more recently, a course leader, has helped me to add many strings to my bow in preparation for applying for jobs in academia and otherwise. The experience of studying at UB, working at UB, and being part of the UB arts community has given me the confidence to be able to pursue music as a vocation beyond my PhD studies. For that, I am very grateful. 

Joel Kirk.

Joel Kirk is currently pursuing a PhD in Composition under the guidance of Professor David Felder