Student Spotlight: Charles Stacy ’16 “Improvisational Composer”

Last summer, Charles Stacy ’16 debuted his original orchestral composition “Milky Way Symphony, Op.1” at the Queensborough Performing Arts Center of New York City.

Growing up in a musical household, Stacy said that music has always been an integral part of his life. Stacy started playing the piano at the age of five, and it was only a matter of time before he started to dabble in creative musical composition.

“I always was interested in music, but I started to get involved after I watched my sister, [Anna Stacy ’13], playing the violin. She is my musical inspiration. I feel that the violin is a piece of artwork. When I play it, it feels very personal,” said Stacy.

Stacy, who has been a committed member of the New York City-based Children’s Orchestra Society (COS), originally wrote “Milky Way Symphony, Op.1” as a small orchestral and brass piece in the beginning of April 2011. However, Michael Dadap, Director of COS, encouraged Stacy to develop it to another level after seeing potential in the piece.

“It was pretty much the first big thing I composed. There was no rush to complete so I had to time to find what I really thought sounded good. I finished the first movement over the summer but I ended up tearing it apart and starting new in the beginning of 2012. I almost didn’t finish it because of school work,” said Stacy.

According to Stacy, it was a very different experience composing pieces for specific instruments and pieces for a whole orchestra. If not for the encouragement from his mentor and orchestra director, Dadap, and his family, Stacy said he would not have been able to finish it.

“It was my parents’ idea to start me in composition because I improvised so much on the piano,” said Stacy. “My inspirations for ‘Milky Way Symphony, Op.1’ were Gustav Mahler’s first two symphonies, ‘Titan’ and ‘Resurrection.’ The piece tries to convey the rise of a massive entity, just like the creation of our galaxy. [Mahler,] who is my favorite composer, always strove to illustrate the birth of something huge.”

The reason why he decided to name his piece “The Milky Way Symphony” was because the piece contained such a vast range of musicality, Stacy said in an e-mail to The Phillipian. The first movement is titled “Creation” and the second, “Spirals,” both of which were suggestions made by Stacy’s mother.

“I’ve written a couple original compositions so far but my favorite composition by far is definitely the ‘Milky Way Symphony, Op. 1,’” said Stacy. “It was the first time I had ever composed something at that big of a scale and the first piece of mine that had been performed publicly. If I were to attempt such thing again, I would have to go back to [Dadap] and just spend hours on the piano improvising until we both conjure up some idea,” said Stacy.

Stacy’s composition process includes spending extended amounts of time sitting behind a piano experimenting with different kinds of tempos and chords. By improvising on the piano, he tries to figure out which instruments would sound best playing the melodies.

“[Stacy] holds a multifaceted skill for composing and music. He is a talented composer, having his works featured in orchestras in New York City. He is also an apt musician with a remarkable way of looking at music that makes you reconsider your own evaluation of any given piece,” said Gabriel Blanchard ’16.

Stacy made his first Andover musical debut during Grasshopper Night 2012 when his circus-themed composition, “Grasshopper Night March” was performed as part of the opening act by Unaccompanied Minors, a student-run collaborative orchestral group led by Maita Eyzaguirre ’14 and Katherine Shih ’13. Currently, Stacy is working on his newest composition project, which is a soundtrack for a videogame that his friend is coding.

Even though Stacy enjoys composing musical pieces in his spare time, he said that he does not plan to pursue musical composition as a career.

“Composing is perhaps one of the most difficult careers, just like any art. I compose best when I receive motivation other than deadlines. Although I admire people like John Williams or James Horner, who are both film scorers, I couldn’t see myself in such a ‘commission-based’ profession,” said Stacy.