School of Music wins two honors in DownBeat student awards

Karl Lyden, Jazz Ensemble I
Karl Lyden, Jazz Ensemble I

The School of Music has won two awards in DownBeat's Student Music Awards, announced April 26.

The Jazz Ensemble I, under the direction of Associate Professor Paul Haar, won Undergraduate College Outstanding Performance honors in the large jazz ensemble category.

Undergraduate student Karl Lyden was named the Undergraduate College Winner for Original Composition Orchestrated Work for his composition, "Downside Up."

The 34th Annual DownBeat Magazine Student Music Awards is an esteemed competition for middle school, high school and college students to showcase their talent and be recognized for their musical skills. Students record their music on a CD and submit it for judging by professional musicians and educators from across the country.

Judging criteria is based on musicianship, creativity, improvisation, technique, sound quality and balance, excitement and authority. Awards are given in 15 categories in five different divisions.

"DownBeat is known as the 'Jazz Bible' in the jazz idiom, and these awards are very prestigious," Haar said. "Our students were submitted against programs from coast to coast, including some of the biggest schools of music in the nation. I am extremely proud of these students and the faculty who have helped mentor them."

Lyden is a junior music performance major and biology minor from Omaha, Neb. He has participated in the UNL Symphonic Band, UNL Wind Ensemble, UNL Jazz Ensemble I and the UNL Jazz Combo II and III. He has attended many honor bands and festivals, including the Metropolitan Area Youth Jazz Orchestra, Nebraska All-State Jazz Band and UNL Honor Jazz Weekend. In 2009, he was selected as the winner of the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra Young Jazz Artist competition and performed with them in October 2009.

"Downside Up" was Lyden's first big band chart that he composed. His previous compositions were for six-person combos.

"Initially when I found out [about this award], I was just trembling," Lyden said. "I just couldn't believe it. I never could have imagined this would happen with one of the first significant pieces that I wrote."

Haar said it was a well-deserved honor for Lyden.

"He is the most humble kid on the planet," Haar said. "But so talented. I couldn't be more proud of him."

The piece was written last summer. Haar wanted three students who were primarily players in the Jazz Ensemble to start writing compositions for the ensemble, so Lyden worked under the direction of Assistant Professor of Composition and Jazz Studies Eric Richards to create the piece.

"Karl is an excellent young musician and an outstanding student," Richards said. "He is blessed with the unique combination of copious amounts of talent, musicality and intellect, all of which is tempered with a great sense of humor. His work is fueled by a strong, inquiring mind, which always brings insightful questions and observations to our class sessions and seminars."

Professor of Trombone Scott Anderson said Lyden is musically curious.

"Karl is one of the most versatile trombonists to ever attend UNL. He is adept at a variety of different styles and more importantly, he is interested in all kinds of music," Anderson said. "Young students have never had so much access to music in the form of recordings, and Karl takes advantage of this by listening to everything he can. I have never had a student with as much musical curiosity as Karl. It is not rare to find a young musician who works hard, nor is it rare to find one with talent. To find a musician who has both attributes is what makes teaching so rewarding."

Lyden said "Downside Up," which runs about 7 and a half minutes, is a good opening piece for a jazz concert.

"It starts out with a fast, energetic swing melody. The first half is pretty bombastic," Lyden said. "Then I decided to do something unconventional for this type of tune. Instead of keeping it a fast swing, I cut the tempo in half. The whole track almost sounds like two pieces in one, except that the second half develops from the first."

He wrote his first composition the summer before his senior year of high school, but has only been seriously studying composition since last summer.

"What I really like about composition is that you have an idea bopping around in your head, and you're trying to figure out a way to express it," Lyden said. "The composition process can be pretty chaotic for me because there are so many things that I want to put into a piece, and I know if I put them all down, then it wouldn't make sense at all. So I try to put on paper what the players can easily play, and the audience can relate to. That's the big challenge, but also the most rewarding thing about composition."

Lyden said the bar is now set high for his future composition writing.

"Now that this has happened, there's really no option for me slacking off at all because I set the bar for myself so high," Lyden said. "I think it's great because now I'm going to dive into everything else that I write to try to one-up myself."

The Downbeat awards are not the only recent accomplishment for the jazz program in the School of Music.

The UNL Jazz Orchestra was named the Outstanding College Group at the Kansas University Jazz Festival in March, and they are working on their third CD, "Home Grown," which is scheduled to be released next spring and will include Lyden's "Downside Up."

In addition, sophomore Mike Grimm won the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra Young Artist Competition this spring and will perform with the orchestra on April 26.

In the Fall of 2009, the School of Music added new Master of Music and Doctorate of Musical Arts degrees with emphases in jazz studies, making UNL one of the few schools in the country with such a major.

"The fact that the award for Outstanding Ensemble and Best Undergraduate Composition was given to our Jazz Studies program while it is still in its initial 'growth phase' bodes very well for the future," Richards said. "I think Jazz Studies at UNL is poised to develop into a leading program on a national, perhaps even international, level. It's very exciting to consider the possibilities for the future!"

- Kathe Andersen, Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts