Artist spotlight: Wendell Leafstedt

Senior composition major Wendell Leafstedt is serious and thoughtful, pausing often to think while articulating himself inquisitively with his hands. Curious and open, it is with this same reflective earnestness that Wendell approaches music.

“The desire to make music comes from everything I encounter in daily life,” said Leafstedt. As an example, he gestured to my journal and explained, “Sometimes I flip open a notebook and the way the pages align create a shape that makes me think of a sound I want to realize in a piece.”

Leafstedt’s first forays into musical composition came with the discovery of GarageBand in sixth grade. Exploring with this program was fundamental to his musical growth, as it allowed him to begin to experiment with assembling the myriad of sounds in his mind and create a collage from all the inspiration he encounters every day.

While he has moved on from GarageBand now, the idea of collage has remained very important to him, as it exemplifies the importance of choice.

“What do you choose if everything is music and everything is art?” mused Leafstedt. “The choices you make are powerful. Everything I do right now is about definition or the undefined and being purposeful when I say what something means.”

Leafstedt grew up in a musical family and has fond memories of making music with his father, an accomplished pianist, violist and musicology professor. Leafstedt began playing the violin in fourth grade and loved playing in youth orchestra in high school. The conductor of his youth orchestra was a composer and gave Leafstedt his first lessons in classical composition during his senior year of high school. Originally coming to Lawrence for a Bachelor of Arts specializing in violin, Leafstedt entered the composition studio and changed to the Bachelor of Music degree as a sophomore.

In 2017, Leafstedt had the opportunity to study at Eastman’s Theory and Analysis of Contemporary Music summer program in Paris, where he met composer Chaya Czernowin. Czernowin’s artistic philosophy of music as a “mental digestive tract,” for difficulties in our world left a tremendous impression on Leafstedt.  He explained, “She has a brilliant conception of how to blend interesting theoretical elements with a people-motivated compositional ethos.”

This is particularly inspirational to Leafstedt as he himself struggles with marrying his desires for newness and innovation for innovation’s sake with his desire to not lose himself in esotericism and still make socially-driven, humanity-conscious art.

“I really believe in new sound,” Leafstedt stressed, explaining how his compositional philosophy rests heavily on his passion for finding, exploring and enjoying new sounds, timbres and textures. “So I suppose it doesn’t always have to have a message and a purpose, sometimes you can write things just for yourself.”

After graduation, Leafstedt hopes to spend one to three years broadly exploring the world by moving to a new city and finding work as a freelance composer and writer before heading to graduate school.

You have a chance to hear Leafstedt’s upcoming works at the Composition Studio Recital on Feb.24 at 1 p.m. in Harper Hall and at his senior recital on Apr. 27 at 11 a.m.




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