Composer-Conductor’s works earn prized spots in showcases

Nathan Froebe has a special studio in his home that is filled with the symbols of his soul and the sounds that he creates in his mind.

It’s a musical man cave – more accurately, a composer-conductor cave.

It features a musical collage of wall prints and drawings. A flute and saxophone. A conductor’s baton. Complete compositions. A wooden desk. Drawing and writing utensils. And a lot, lot more.

It’s a place where he writes and composes, where he is totally at home with himself.

Nathan Froebe

“The sound is in me,” Froebe explains while visiting via Zoom from his home studio. “I enjoy what I do. I have found myself in a good place.”

He also has found a good place at Indiana University East, where he has taught as a visiting assistant professor of music since 2019.

Froebe writes compositions by hand, chicken scratches at first, and then the orchestral score is painstakingly engraved on special paper. The process takes loads of paper and loads of patience.

Admittedly, the engraving is one of his least favorite tasks.

“All the creative work is done, so it’s literally just proofreading amped up to the nth degree,” he said, noting the score is usually quite large even if it “isn’t written for a full orchestra.”

In keeping with a fastidious attention to detail, he creates his own bindings and covers for his scores.

The musicians that perform his works must be able to read the notes and transform them into the sounds he has composed together.

Renascent manuscript by Nathan Froebe. Renascent will be presented in concert on Sunday, January 8. The piece was selected as one of four finalists in the Crossroads of America composition competition sponsored by the South Bend Symphony Orchestra.

That’s something that will be very important for him as two of his compositions have been selected for showcase events in Indiana and in Washington state. In fact, one could land him a big commission toward a new composition.

The chamber orchestra piece titled, Renascent, is one of four finalists in the Crossroads of America composition competition by the South Bend Symphony Orchestra. The the competition is coming up this Sunday, January 8, at 2:30 the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

“I am beyond thrilled to have been selected for this opportunity, as it can be notoriously difficult to get new orchestral works programmed,” Froebe said. “Following that performance, the audience, orchestra members, and a juried panel will vote. The composer-piece earning the most votes is granted a $10,000 commission for a work to be premiered in the 2023-24 season.”

The flute-piano work titled, Three Scenes for Wind and Hammer, will be performed at the Society of Composers Region VIII conference in Tacoma, Washington, scheduled for February 24-25.

His background as a conductor, too, came in handy to complete the piece. “The skillsets between composer and conductor often overlap,” he explained. “For the finale of Renascent, I had to break out my baton to physically conduct through the gestures I was creating.”

Froebe will attend the rehearsals and performances at both events. All he has to do, he jokes, is show up at the event and “hope they play well.”

It is important in the composing business to get heard and be received well. Recognition helps build careers, win awards and increase the chances for compositions to find their ways onto albums. Three Scenes for Wind and Hammer premiered at IU East in February 2020. It was written as a collaboration with Jessica Raposo, associate professor of music and music program coordinator at IU East.

After a long break because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Raposo again played the piece at her recital in September 2021. That performance can be heard at Three Scenes for Wind and Hammer.

The two made a connection quickly after Froebe started working at IU East in 2019. “That fall, I had a concert (with flute, piccolo and alto),” Raposo said. “He liked the different sounds he heard.”

The upbeat Froebe said he drew inspiration through the performance, so quickly knew he wanted to compose something with her. He values exuberance in his music, finding ways to collaborate, to make statements, to celebrate successes.

They quickly came together to create Three Scenes.

“It was obviously a good piece from the start. It all happened within a week,” Raposo said. “It was so much fun. It was fun to play, but also a challenge.”

One of the challenges was playing both the flute and the piccolo in the same piece, something that is rarely done in a solo work, she said.

University music teachers tend to be specialists, so collaborations with experts in other types of music enhance creativity and freshness, Raposo said. “It helps having other musicians…to develop and try out new ideas. We wanted to do something different,” she said.

Froebe enjoyed the experience, too. “We collaborate well together. I wrote all of the music for her recital,” he said. “I was inspired to do it.”

The collaborative experience will continue. They plan to create another work within the next year.

Froebe said he enjoys the closeness of working at IU East with faculty and with students and believes that it helps build better connections by having smaller class settings. That allows him to better model what students need to do to become composers. “Everyone I’ve met is engaged and passionate about music,” he said.

Video of compositions by Froebe can be found at: