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Video: Student composer’s music comes alive at festival

When you are learning how to compose music, there’s nothing like having some of the best musicians in the world perform your piece and tell you what worked, what didn’t, and why.

That’s exactly what happened to senior Riley Leitch at Illinois State’s recent Red Note New Music Festival. As one of Illinois State’s music composition majors, Leitch was asked to write a piece of music to be “read” during the festival by award-winning wind quintet The City of Tomorrow.

The ISU student composer reading sessions were just one of several events during the 8th annual Red Note festival, a weeklong event which features outstanding performances of contemporary concert music. It was founded by Martha Horst, assistant professor in the School of Music.

Red Note logo“The Red Note New Music Festival improves Riley’s ISU experience because he gets to hear his music live by professional musicians,” Horst said. “When a professional musician reads your music, they immediately have a lot more capability as performers. They can give you very loud louds, and very soft softs. They can easily read rhythms and tell you exactly what is working and not working from a professional perspective.”

Like many musicians, Riley Leitch got his start in music by learning the piano, at age 5. In middle school he picked up a trombone, and got good enough to pursue trombone performance at Illinois State.

“When I got to ISU, I wanted to develop my skills as a musician as much as possible,” Leitch said. “I thought that to compose music would be the best way to catch all of that in a bottle.”

So Leitch added composition as a second major. The School of Music faculty is well-equipped to help him develop his dual talents, he said.

“At some universities it would be difficult for me to add a second major of composition, but here it was very easy for me to have all these things start to feed into each other,” he said.

At Red Note, Leitch heard his piece of music called The Fear of Pain—someday to be part of a much longer piece—read by The City of Tomorrow at Kemp Recital Hall. It’s about his greatest fears.

“The Red Note New Music Festival has made me a better musician because of the sheer amount of talent that’s brought in,” said Leitch.

Learn more about Leitch’s story in the video above.

Bob Tomaski can be reached at Ryan Denham can be reached at