Music man

Published 7:00 pm Saturday, June 23, 2012

Kelvin Landherr, 18, wrote the music for 15 instruments for his senior project at Southland High School. The high school band played the ensemble during the spring concert. - Matt Peterson

Adams teen writes ensemble piece for 15 instruments

Few high-schoolers could claim their senior projects were quite as fun or gratifying as one Southland student’s.

Kelvin Landherr, 18, of Rose Creek, used his knowledge of instruments, sheet music and his gifted ear for sound to write music for 15 instruments and compile an entire ensemble for the high school band. Then he conducted the band during the school’s 2012 spring concert.

“Which is not easy in itself, either,” said Amalie Niethammer, Southland’s band instructor. Though several of Niethammer’s former students have reorganized existing songs for band, including Landherr, none have written their own ensemble. That, Niethammer said, is hard work.

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Landherr approached Niethammer about the project, a requirement to graduate, last fall. Over six weeks this spring and nearly every day, sometimes until 2 a.m., Landherr tinkered with notes. Working with the ensemble every day was necessary, Landherr said, so he could keep everything fresh in his head. Even during down time, like when driving in the car, Landherr evaluated simple melodies on the radio and experimented with them.

In some respects, Landherr pulled off a Beethoven. Though he tested each instrument’s piece on the piano and uploaded the ensemble into a computer program, he really had no idea what the final product would sound like until the band played it.

“You really have no idea what it will sound like,” Niethammer said. “The computer, it just sounds the same. You can’t have flute and tuba; so yeah, he had no idea.”

And when sound reverberated from the actual band, the result was not a flop — by Landherr’s standards, or Niethammer’s. Both were pleasantly surprised.

“Watching his face as he heard the band playing it for the first time was kind of fun to watch,” Niethammer said. “It was his music coming to life.”

The final product was much different than Landherr heard through his computer speakers, better.

“I am very happy with the result,” Landherr said. “And I’m very happy for the band that they were able to play it, and I didn’t write it too difficult.”

Throughout production, Landherr stuck to his bread and butter to test the music: the piano. The recent grad, whose brother and sister also play music, picked up the piano in second grade. It’s still his favorite instrument.

“That’s how I wrote my song, actually,” Landherr said. “I sat down at the piano and experimented on there.”

Still, he’s developed a knack for several brass, and woodwind instruments and drums, too. The more he plays, the seemingly easier the instruments become.

“Yeah, I picked up the white clarinet last weekend,” he nonchalantly told another musician while practicing with the drumline at Southland High School on Monday.

Landherr admits he doesn’t know how to play every instrument, but he has a knack for sound, nonetheless. He enjoys playing instruments, especially the piano, which he says is “calming.” Though he plans to major in chemistry at Winona State University, he also discovered how fun and challenging writing music is. He will minor in music. While chemistry may be a noble profession in itself, some would like to see Landherr push his obvious talents to the limit.

“I really hope that he does continue music as a career,” Niethammer said. “He is very talented, and I think that it would suit him well.”