Sweet Briar sophomore premieres original compositions

Lauren Rose “Velocity” Haigh of Tacoma presents research during the Pannell Scholars academic fair at Sweet Briar College in Virginia.
Lauren Rose “Velocity” Haigh of Tacoma, Wash., presents research during the Pannell Scholars academic fair at Sweet Briar College in Virginia.

At its year-end concert on April 26, the Sweet Briar College Chamber Orchestra premiered two compositions by Lauren Rose “Velocity” Haigh. Assistant professor of music Jeff Jones believes the occasion is a first for the College: As far as anyone knows, Haigh is Sweet Briar’s first student composer-in-residence.

One work is a chamber piece for oboe, clarinet and viola titled “Columns White.” The second is an untitled full-orchestra composition that she completed in time for the concert.

Haigh graduated from Tacoma School of the Arts in Tacoma, Wash., where she learned composition from Paul Eliot. A second-year math and music major, she has focused on composition during her time at Sweet Briar, studying with assistant professor of music and composer Joshua Harris last year. With Harris away from the College this year, she turned to Jones to explore options to continue composing. He suggested the residency.

“Early in the fall, I felt that she could handle the workload and would benefit from the experience of creating new works in support of our ‘three-Cs season’ focusing on chamber works, creativity and collaboration,” said Jones, who in addition to directing the orchestra this year, leads the College’s steel band, Skiffle USA.

“Velocity and I had a conversation about the possibility. The more we talked, the more I knew that it would be good for her and for the orchestra. I offered her the position.”

When Jones brought up the idea, Haigh had never heard her music played by other musicians, so the opportunity appealed to her. Jones says the arrangement has contributed to an exciting and full season in which students collaborated on performance projects together and with musicians, poets, naturalists, painters, musicologists and a museum director.

“It has been a real pleasure watching Velocity grow as a composer, both in terms of craft and in her ability to communicate her art to, and collaborate with, instrumentalists in the orchestra,” Jones said.

For Haigh, the residency brought the real-life pressures of a working artist, but was hugely rewarding.

“[It was] a lot more stressful than I imagined, but a lot more productive too. I feel I have written some of my best work through this,” she said.

On top of her major studies and history minor, Haigh edits the student newspaper and conducted a yearlong research project as a Pannell Scholar. The scholarship allows sophomores to explore any area of intellectual interest without regard to their majors — and Haigh chose something far removed from hers. Her study of South Korean society included a trip to Seoul, where she investigated the country’s role in the development of the West.

Given everything on her plate, she says it could be hard to find both time and inspiration to write music for the Chamber Orchestra concert.

“It is even harder when the thing you are having to force for a deadline is your own creativity,” she says.

But the pay-off is worth it.

“Hearing my pieces performed is surreal. I write music because it makes me happy, so after I write a piece it just sits on my computer. Hearing it performed — and watching an audience listen to a piece I wrote alone — is a totally wonderful and bizarre experience.”