Composer Connor Wier feels the magic hidden in a mundane spot like Clark College’s busy central courtyard.
“I was walking up to Gaiser Hall, walking across the courtyard,” he said, when he stopped and considered all the different stories that happen on that paved circle.
Students rushing to class or relaxing with friends. Maintenance and landscaping workers, keeping the place functional and attractive. Even squirrels darting around during the daytime, and raccoons creeping through the night. “All sorts of interesting things are happening there, all the time,” Wier said.
Wier, who will graduate from Clark this month with his associate degree in music, happened to be hungry for inspiration when he noticed all that. He’d just been urged by Clark’s Don Appert, a renowned composer and composition teacher, to enter a national competition open only to new works by community college students — and only for percussion instruments.
Wier plays trumpet and flugelhorn, but that didn’t stop him from creating an engagingly oddball depiction of Clark’s bustling courtyard called “The Square” for a small percussion ensemble: two timpanis, marimba and vibraphone.
If You GoWhat: Clark College end-of-season concerts. Cost: Free admission, donations accepted. Who: Clark College Women’s Choral Ensemble and Clark College Chorale, featuring new works by Don Appert and Carolyn Powell. When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Where: Vancouver First United Methodist Church, 401 E. 33rd St. • • • Who: Clark College Concert Choir, featuring “The Oceans of Time” by Connor Wier. When: 7 p.m. June 14. Where: Vancouver First United Methodist Church, 401 E. 33rd St. • • • Who: Clark College Orchestra, featuring “Franco-American” works by Berlioz, Ravel, Diamond. When: 7:30 p.m. June 16. Where: Vancouver School of Arts & Academics, 3101 Main St.
ListenListen to “The Square,” by Connor Wier, performed by Line Upon Line, a Texas percussion trio: https://soundcloud.com/texaspublicradio/jackstone2019-2wier
“The Square” won second place in the Jack Stone Award for New Music competition. It’s an atonal and dissonant piece, Wier warned, but not at all harsh or grating; take a listen with eyes closed and you’ll find the eight-minute work cinematic and fun — translating all those hurrying people, chance encounters, scurrying critters and even a sudden downpour into unpredictable, entertaining sound.
In March Wier enjoyed the thrill of being flown to Northwest Vista College in San Antonio to hear his piece performed by Line Upon Line, a professional percussion ensemble. Wier had only about an hour to work with the musicians in person, he said — and discovered that they did need some guidance to achieve the composer’s vision — but mostly, he just took in the sensation of being a visiting composer and VIP at age 20.
Wier got another taste of being a professional, working composer during that trip, he said, while penning his next piece in airplane seats and airport waiting areas. That brand-new composition sports the sweepingly cosmic title “The Oceans of Time,” and its inspiration comes from a darkly cosmic source: a short, disturbing verse from 1848 by poet and horror writer Edgar Allen Poe, called “A Dream within a Dream.”
The world premiere of “The Oceans of Time” will open a free June 14 concert. The Clark Women’s Choral Ensemble and a chamber orchestra will perform the piece; the Clark Concert Choir will take over for the rest of the show.
Wier, a self-described “literature nerd” who also served as managing editor of the 2019 Clark College literary journal, said he discovered “A Dream within a Dream” when hunting for a short text to set music to; he became captivated by Poe’s dreadful vision of time erasing everything.
“All the stuff we do, even this conversation right now, it will all float away,” Wier said. “Even the great Roman Empire fell into dust and ruins. What’s the point of doing anything? Why should we do any of this?”
Wier’s “The Oceans of Time” starts out evoking stormy skies in the singers’ voices, seagulls in the strings and crashing ocean waves in the tuba and double-bass; then cellos and violas grow gentler and more contemplative, and the choir eventually delivers Poe’s melancholy text. It has him standing on “a surf-tormented shore,” struggling to capture handfuls of sand that only escape his grasp and disappear into the deep:
“O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?”
Wier loves that this deeply dark poem ends not with a declaration but a question, which he takes as a sign of hope.
“It’s a question that needs to be asked,” he said, and if you ask it when you’re in “a better frame of mind” than ever-miserable Poe, your answer might just be happier. Wier takes that final question mark to mean, “You go and figure it out. You figure out what your life means and what you need to do.”
What Wier means to do, this fall, is head for Portland State University and its music composition program, he said.
“Connor has written an incredible piece of music, and I am so happy that we are getting to perform it,” said Jacob Funk, director of choirs at Clark. “This is one of the highlights of the year for our music program.”