By Kimmie Collins
Apr 12, 2022
Dakota Pederson, ‘22 taps out a melody on the keyboard beside him, pauses, then tries a similar tune with a slight variation. When the sound bouncing off the keys matches the song in his mind, he records it into the composing software on his computer. Then he begins the process again, crafting a masterpiece bit by bit.
Dakota has been composing music since seventh grade, and his pieces are gaining notice and acclaim.
His most recent work, Armory, was selected as the champion of the Phi Beta Mu Claude T. Smith Composition Contest for Young Musicians. Dakota received a $5,000 cash prize, and a trip to the Missouri Music Educators Association Conference, where the piece was performed by the St. Louis Wind Symphony in January.
“Hearing my own piece performed live by a professional wind symphony is one of the best parts of the composition experience. A lot of work goes into these pieces and the final product makes it all worth it,” Dakota says. “Working with the conductor to craft an exciting interpretation is such a rewarding experience. Everybody has so much to share when my pieces are performed, and it makes them that much better. ”
The Indiana State University music education major is student teaching at Robinson High School in Robinson, Illinois, about a 50-minute drive from campus, during his final semester. His aspiration is to inspire a deep love between students and music in his future career as a middle or high school band director.
“I want to build up a band program that can play really good music,” Dakota says. “Then I want to start publishing more. I want people to recognize my name as a composer.”
“I’d like to get to the point where people contact me for feedback or advice when they play my piece and schools ask me to commission pieces for them.”
As Dakota eats his lunch, he hears the beginnings of another melody pop into his head. He quickly sings it into his phone so he can remember to explore the tune later.
“I take a long time before I even start a piece. I’m not the type of composer that forces myself to compose every single day,” he says. “I usually wait until an idea comes to me.”
After school, Dakota returns to Terre Haute in time for rehearsal with ISU’s Wind Orchestra. Normally, he would sit with the ensemble, his clarinet singing over the bass instruments. Today, though, he stands in front of his peers, conducting them through one of his pieces.
Dakota purses his lips. “It’s nerve-wracking when they first start playing your piece,” he says. “But once you get closer to the concert and it starts sounding really good, that’s a great feeling. The best part is when I hear spin on [a piece] that I haven’t even thought of, and it’s even better than what I could have imagined.”
When the lights dim on the rehearsal hall, Dakota is at last able to return home to his current composition. He experiments with the melody he recorded at lunch and, satisfied, he adds it to his score.
“From there, I’ll write out a simplified piano score of the entire piece,” he says. “Then I’ll add in the bassline, the harmony parts, and percussion. Then I’ll orchestrate the whole thing out for all the instruments.”
The piece won’t be finished in a day. Dakota’s pieces usually take at least a couple of months to complete.
“The starting stages are stressful,” he says. “It’s really emotionally taxing.”
Dakota ends his day with a little relaxation, listening to the music of his favorite composers to unwind.
“I listen to a lot more music than I compose, so I’m constantly digesting other people’s music,” he says. “I’m constantly looking at the music scores to see how they wrote it or how they accomplished a specific sound or harmony.”
His career as a composer and educator is only just beginning. The Indiana State University senior, with the wind from the championship composition still fresh beneath his wings, is ready to captivate the world, one piece at a time.