By: Bry Woodard
An innovative and diverse take on classical music, Rolando Gomez’s senior recital, which will take place on May 5, at 4:30 in Stull Recital Hall, is not to be missed. Gomez took a moment out of his busy schedule to meet with me in CLEA.
A Miami Florida native, Rolando is an easygoing and playful Composition major and Timara minor here at Oberlin College. He also is a Bonner Scholar as well as the musical director for the Latinx Music Union. Music has always been a part of Rolando’s life. His parents are Cuban salsa musicians and he has fond memories going to their rehearsals and performances as a kid. He first started getting into composing at 8 years old. “It was at the same time that Club Penguin was popular. Whenever the wifi went out I would go on my dad’s composing program on his computer called ‘Finale’.”
Rolando auditioned and was accepted into an art school when he was 11 where he chose his orchestral instrument: the cello. It was at that school where he heard Danzón Number 2 by composer Arturo Márquez. “Listening to it felt very familiar and I felt very identified. You could hear the Cuban influence and I was like, wow you can do this with classical music! ” Once in high school Rolando heard Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” which was the piece that revealed to him that he wanted to compose.
From there he went straight to Youtube, watching and studying videos to learn the technical side of composing and how to finish pieces, graduating from Finalé to Lilypond, where he also got to practice his coding skills. He prepared a portfolio and submitted it to schools and eventually got accepted into Oberlin, on his birthday. “By far one of my best birthdays to this day.”
Rolando gets more nervous when others perform his pieces than when he is performing. “There are a lot of new pieces in the concert and a lot of ambitious ones so I’m pretty nervous.” The concert opener, “Digital Computer” is the most ambitious piece. “I wrote it in high school and it was a short two minute jubilant piece. I revisited it and added electronics to reflect my Timara minor.” All of the songs have an element of humor, and most are dedicated to a loved one as Rolando credits his family as his inspiration. Speaking of humor, “Humor”, the only serious song in the concert, was written after receiving this piece of advice from his mom about serious situations: “Laugh it Off”. When he showed it to his professor Stephen Hartke, the reaction was incredibly fulfilling. “He said the lyrics were evocative of another Stephen: Stephen Sondheim, one of Rolando’s favorite lyricists. He then said the music sounds like Maurice Ravel. “I was like, YES! It was such a great feeling!”
“Choo Choo”, “Mountain Ballad”, and “The Moth” are also dedicated to people in Rolando’s life. “Choo Choo,” originally written for solo violin, features hints of afro rhythm and indications of the blues. “It’s about trains, so I dedicated it to my three year old nephew.” “Mountain Ballad,” the second movement of a string quartet Rolando was working on the day his little sister was born. He had just gotten to the arc of the storyline with the song at its highest register, so he dedicated this one to her. In their first year he and his friend Kylie Buckham would get together to make music. “She would sing about something mundane and I would play the chord progression. I wanted to mimic that structure, so this song is about a moth and I wrote it for Kylie.”
Other works include “Whiskey Sorrow” which features a man in a bar who drinks too much, “Her Delight”, which tells how no one wants to eat grandma’s Thanksgiving green bean casserole, “Thanksgiving songs” another Thanksgiving song, this time about a turkey’s legacy, and “Pasodoble.” “Pasodoble” is for my grandfather. It’s a blend of Cuban and Spanish music with references to Bach in the cello fugue and percussion. “‘Pasodoble’ is an homage to my ancestors, both familial and musical.”
“All of my music is a reflection of who I am. Not only my background but also my personality and interests and beliefs. I want people to know that it’s okay to be playful in classical music.”
Be sure to be there on May 5th when Rolando looks to expand the genre and highlight his Cuban background and playful composition style.