Moved by world refugee crisis, Apsara Balamurugan, 16, composes piece for Seminar on Contemporary Music for the Young

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As a daughter of Sri Lankan refugees who settled in the U.S., Apsara Balamurugan is moved by the worldwide plight of refugees today. To express her feelings, the Weston 16-year-old and student at the Conservatory Program at The Rivers School turned to music and composed a piece she calls “Displaced.”

“This subject is a very personal thing for me. I wanted to pay homage to the refugee crisis by blending music styles – classical, choral, and jazz because the refugee crisis is a mixing of cultures,” she says. “There is a common melody throughout. It shows how we can all find common ground that links us together no matter what our beliefs are.” Apsara admits it is a challenge. “I want to achieve a cohesiveness but make sure I keep the uniqueness and integrity of each style of music.”

Displaced,” will be performed at The Rivers School Conservatory’s 41st Annual Seminar on Contemporary Music for the Young by 45 students from several different RSC music groups – Orchestra, Men’s Chorus, Women’s Chorus, and Select One Jazz Combo. “It’s unusual to bring different music groups from the school together,” she says. “The simple melody holds this complex diverse group of people together and really shows their strengths.”

Apsara has been studying music composition at Rivers (RSC) since she was nine years old. She compares composing to computer science, which is one of her other great interests. “I like how I can be incredibly creative and let my mind run free, but also adhere to logic and rule-based fundamentals,” she says.  She appreciates the guidance she has gotten from her teacher Dr. Stephen Halloran, chair of the RSC Composition Department, who also teaches music theory at both Boston University and Tanglewood. “Dr. Halloran is good at helping me draw out my creativity, but doesn’t impose his vision on my work,” she says.

Dr. Halloran is doing double duty at the seminar this year. He is helping his students while also serving as the commissioned composer for the contemporary music seminar.  His piece “White Dwarf” is about the sun. It has three movements symbolizing three stages of life – Chaos Theory, Clockwork, and Deep Freeze. “At the end, the sun dies by shrinking and becoming very cold,” Dr. Halloran explained. “It will be frozenly majestic.” Dr. Halloran is hand-picking the RSC students who will be performing his work. “They will be playing a lot of notes, I will tell you that,” he added with a laugh.

Dr. Halloran looks forward to the event each year. “Many people believe contemporary music is like abstract art that will be hard to understand,” he says. “My students write in a diversity of styles including pop music and new age music. I like it all.” Apsara agrees. She has composed other pieces for the contemporary music seminar in past years. “It’s great to interact with other student composers,” she noted. “We get to see what other students our age are working on and we can appreciate how hard we work on these things.”

Tickets for the Seminar on Contemporary Music for the Young are available online or at the door. Reserve your seats!