March 8, 2022
Contact: Eric Stann, 573-882-3346, StannE@missouri.edu
Music is a large part of University of Missouri senior Jack Snelling’s life, from beginning piano lessons at age 8 and teaching himself how to play bassoon in high school to writing original music compositions as part of the Mizzou New Music Initiative (MNMI).
One of Snelling’s compositions, “Ozark Autumn,” was recently written for a St. Louis-based instrumental group, the 442’s, and was performed for the first time at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis in spring 2021 as part of a MNMI collaboration. Established by Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield and the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation, MNMI represents several music programs in the MU School of Music, all of which work toward a common goal — to help position the School of Music as a leading center, both nationally and internationally, for music composition.
The aim of MNMI is to foster an environment where composers can connect with performers who can bring their written pieces to life in front of an audience. Since its inception, 1,000 pieces of music have been written and performed through the initiative.
For Snelling, composing music has the power to access emotions. The St. Louis area native, who grew up in Webster Groves, vividly remembers being brought to tears during the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony performed by the world-renowned St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Creating that type of emotional impact through music is what Snelling said drives him to be a composer. He considers the opportunity to write music as his way of giving back to society by creating something that many generations will be able to enjoy.
An introduction to MNMI
With the Sinquefields’ most recent gift of $3.4 million to MNMI, the couple has contributed a total of more than $10 million in support of the initiative’s various programs, including the Creating Original Music Project (COMP) K-12 Competition. It was COMP that first drew Snelling’s attention to Mizzou and MNMI.
“When I was in sixth grade, my science teacher’s son won COMP, and she brought in a video of a performance of her son’s winning piece for us to watch,” Snelling said. “I remember being completely blown away by what I saw, and that got me hooked on wanting to start writing music. The next year, I wrote an arrangement of the theme song from Indiana Jones for my middle school band. Then, in eighth grade I wrote my first musical composition called “Forge,” which was performed by the eighth-grade wind ensemble at my middle school.”
That experience led Snelling to participate in MNMI’s Missouri Summer Composition Institute during his high school years, and eventually brought him to Mizzou, where he is now working on a double major in geography and music composition.
"The joy of life is music." — Jeanne Sinquefield
“Mizzou was already on my radar for being a composer because I had grown up there, and I knew all of the professors by name,” Snelling said. “So, when it came time to look for a college, no other place matched the opportunities available to me at Mizzou, as well as the culture of the School of Music, and the MNMI was also a leading factor in all of that.”
A musician and composer
While Snelling grew up learning classical piano, he also experimented with musical improvisation on the piano, or as he puts it, “just messing around.” His experimentation helped grow his passion for playing jazz piano, leading to a chance opportunity to play jazz piano for a weekly gig at The Cheshire Hotel in St. Louis with a quartet of fellow musicians from his high school.
In high school, Snelling also taught himself how to play the bassoon in response to a request by his band director to fill a void of bassoon players who had recently graduated. While the bassoon serves as Snelling’s focus for his classical music degree at MU, playing jazz piano also serves as a way to foster his energy and creativity as a composer.
“A composer is a performing musician just as much as a musician is, and part of that goes back to my jazz piano background,” Snelling said. “In jazz, you are often writing as you are playing, so I really like joining those two ideas together.”
Jack Snelling City Swing performed the Mizzou New Music Ensemble, Dr. Yoshiaki Onishi, conductor
Fostering musical influences
Stefan Freund, a professor of composition and the artistic director of MNMI, believes in the importance of integrating influences into what composers write.
“It’s a way for us to translate ideas that we are hearing around us — in the form of color, texture, rhythm, pitch and harmony — and communicate those ideas with performers so they can then share our ideas with their audience,” said Freund, who began composing his own music at age 5. “In our world, the composer is really creating music to a vast degree. Of course, the conductor and the performers have some influence on what’s heard at the end — but the composer really has a lot of power. We’re teaching our students how to be able to communicate their ideas to the performers through notation, orchestration, or even providing comments, so they’re able to talk about their ideas.”
For nearly as long as he’s been playing it, Snelling has loved listening to almost any genre of music, with Ben Folds, Earth, Wind & Fire and Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson among his favorite artists. While there isn’t a direct connection between what he listens to and the type of music he writes, Snelling said it has some influence.
“I would definitely say that the music I write is kind of all over the place; you can’t exactly fit it cleanly into one genre,” Snelling said. “One cool thing about my instruction here at Mizzou is even though I am technically getting a degree in classical music, all of the professors here have really been open about me infusing other genres into the stuff that I write, so I really feel like I am at home here.”
Listening to a variety of musical genres has also inspired Snelling to experiment with infusing different genres into a single piece of music — an interest he said has grown during his experience with MNMI, especially while working with the 442s to perform his “Ozark Autumn” piece at Sheldon Concert Hall. The group even reached out to him later on with a request to professionally record it.
“By having one of the first things I write for professionals be one of the first things that go out into the world, I was definitely in awe at first because several of the people in the 442s would do master classes at my high school, and they were also some of the teachers in the jazz youth program that I was a part of while growing up,” Snelling said.
After graduation, Snelling plans to attend graduate school for jazz studies and use his composition degree from MU to further his jazz piano playing. Then, he hopes to move to a city like New York City and become a freelance musician. His dream is to have his own touring jazz trio which can perform his own musical compositions.
“I feel like I’m so much closer to my own voice as a musician because of what I’ve been doing here with MNMI,” Snelling said. “In addition, I’ve grown as a person, and as a performer. I feel more confident in my abilities as a professional because of my work here with other professional musicians. Also, I’ve been lucky to learn my way around music production and other administrative duties. Basically, I have gained plenty of real-world skills to further my music career, thanks to Mizzou.”
MNMI by the numbers (2006-2022)
- 1,000 pieces of music have been written and performed
- Composers ages 6-92 have written music
- 146 guest composers and performers of new music have been invited to campus, including 3 Pulitzer Prize winners and 4 Grammy Award winners
- Over 100 students supported with full scholarships and assistantships
- Creating Original Music Program (since 2006)
- 345 pieces of music by K-12 Missouri composers performed
- Missouri Summer Composition Institute (since 2007)
- 120 pieces by Missouri high school students premiered
- Sinquefield Prize (since 2006)
- 17 pieces by Mizzou student composers premiered by MU Large Ensembles at the Chancellor's Arts Showcase
- Mizzou International Composers Festival (since 2010)
- 92 resident composer premieres by Alarm Will Sound
- 30 works of guest composers performed by Alarm Will Sound
- 75 works performed by the Mizzou New Music Ensemble and guest ensembles
- Sound of Art Concerts (since 2011)
- 42 premieres of Mizzou student works by the Mizzou New Music Ensemble at cultural institutions in St. Louis
- Missouri Composers Project (since 2012)
- 66 works performed by the Columbia Chamber Choir and the Columbia Civic Orchestra
- Sinquefield Commissions (since 2012)
- 40 works written by Mizzou student composers for MU Ensembles
- Sheldon Commissions (since 2014)
- 39 works written by Mizzou student composers and premiered at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis
- St. Louis Symphony Orchestra collaboration (since 2018)
- 12 works by Mizzou student composers premiered
- 4 works by Mizzou faculty and NMI alumni performed