On Arranging and Composing

As a young child, I sang, played piano by ear and wrote little melodies. At age 7, I started formal piano studies with Dorothy G. Knowlton.  I learned to play guitar in high school and studied classical guitar with Jean Wells.  At that time, I composed small pieces and arranged popular songs for piano. I was always fascinated with exotic scales, unusual harmonies and syncopated jazz rhythms.

I was fortunate to major in music composition at Cal State University, East Bay, where acclaimed composer, Frederic Fox, gave me the tools to become stronger and more focused in my writing.  I studied the major periods of music and wrote pieces in the style of representative composers, e.g. Brahms, Chopin and Stravinsky. I also took extensive classes in orchestration and contemporary styles.  Under Dr. Fox’s tutelage, I wrote many works for different instrument groups, culminating with a piece for chamber orchestra. 

Since my undergraduate training in composition, I have had the privilege of working with such mentors as Julian White and Jason Levis. I have since composed and arranged numerous works for chorus, piano and instrumental ensembles.

 At the recording session of "Laying Rails."

At the recording session of "Laying Rails."

I became enchanted with authentic folk music when I was in the Kodaly music Master’s Degree program at Holy Names College. A group of us formed Calicanto Associates to research the traditional music of California resulting in the publication of two books on the subject. Subsequently, I was propelled to write a collection of choral arrangements based on these beautiful California folk songs.  Eventually this led to my three-part choral cycle “California Collage.” I was honored to win three separate prizes for each part of “California Collage”  (Origins, Journey for Gold and Laying Rails) from the Music Teachers Association of California Composers Today Competition.

While I was teaching piano classes at Diablo Valley College, I wrote a collection of folk song arrangements for two pianos, Over the past five years, these duos have been used extensively at DVC.   

My most recent composition, “Turkish Impressions” was inspired by a trip to Turkey several years ago.  It is an 18-minute work for winds, strings and hammered dulcimer.  It was performed by the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra on November 4, 2017. 

I just completed a piece for piano and marimba  This was based on a twelve-tone row, and is entitled:  "Snap, Rattle and Plunk: Embracing Cereality."

Click here to hear music samples →

 
 
 A day at the office.

A day at the office.

 

 
 
 
 
I really like your piece, and enjoyed listening to its textures and relating them to your inspiration. The writing for piano and exchange of lines sound incredibly colorful. There are a lot of very sensitive and crystalline-like wide intervals in the upper register of the piano that sound beautiful.
— Paul Kerekes, composer, on "Northern Lights"
click for more testimonials
 
 

Books and Collections of Musical Arrangements:

 

 50 Choral Arrangements of Traditional Songs            2006-2017
  Kester, N.N., Arlen, K
  Calicanto Associates, Oakland, CA

 Folk Songs for Piano Ensemble                                  2001
  26 Two and Three Part Arrangements
  in 21 Major and Minor Keys
  Kester N.N.

Days of Gold! Songs of the California Gold Rush        1999
(in 2nd printing)
* On California State approved list for Music & Social Studies Standards
Arlen K., Batt M., Benson M.A., Kester N.N.
Calicanto Associates, Oakland, CA:

They Came Singing: Songs from California’s History    1995
(in 8th printing)
* On California State approved list for Music & Social Studies Standards
Arlen K., Batt M., Benson M.A., Kester N.N.
Calicanto Associates, Oakland, CA

 Recorder Series                                                         1990 - 2017
(for recorder ensemble with guitar chords)                                  

Trio Book for 2 soprano and 1 alto recorder
Duet Book: Folksongs for beginning sop. recorders
Round Book: canons for C recorders
Christmas Books: three books of carols,
    arr. for soprano, alto and tenor recorders


HIGHLIGHTS and HISTORY

ELEMENTARY through HIGH SCHOOL:

As a young child, I sang, played piano by ear and wrote little melodies. At age 7, I started formal piano studies with Dorothy G. Knowlton.  I learned to play guitar in high school and studied classical guitar with Jean Wells.  At that time, I composed small pieces and arranged popular songs for piano.

 

UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION:

  • B.A. in Music Composition and Piano:  California State University, East Bay, Hayward, California
  • Studied composition, music theory and orchestration under Frederic Fox, Ernst Gloe and Robert Basart
  • Wrote numerous compositions for various instrumental ensembles
     

GRADUATE EDUCATION and KODALY TEACHING:

  • M.M. in Music Education, Kodaly Emphasis, (instrumental focus, piano): Holy Names University, Oakland, California
  • Wrote choral arrangements based on traditional folk songs
     

POST GRADUATE EDUCATION, TEACHING and COMPOSING:  

  • Developed Private Studio, teaching piano, guitar, recorder, theory, and music composition
  • Joined Music Department Faculty at Contra Costa & Diablo Valley Colleges,
  • teaching courses in: music theory, piano, and music literature
  • Studied composition with Julian White and Jason Levis
  • Researched and co-authored two books on the traditional songs of California, self-published and distributed through Calicanto Associates
  • Composed over 40 choral arrangements based on traditional, historic songs
  • Co-Presented workshop on “Singing History through Choral Arrangements” with Karen Arlen in 2010,  Organization of American Kodaly Educators, National Conference, Dallas, TX
  • Wrote Folksongs for Piano Ensemble: arrangements in 21 different keys for piano duo, suitable for group piano classes and private studios
  • Composed small works for piano and instrumental ensembles
  • Performed original works for solo piano and piano duos in numerous venues, including “Northern Lights” for piano duo with Susan Bruckner at faculty concert: Diablo Valley College 2010
  • Composed three-part choral work for SSATB and piano, entitled “California Collage:  Origins, Journey for Gold and Laying Rails,” each section describing an era of California history.
  • Gave several performances of each part of “California Collage,” and had “Laying Rails” recorded professionally. Created vimeo of “Laying Rails”
  • Won 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes in the Composers Today Competition of the Music Teachers Association of California for all three parts of “California Collage” and for “Theme and Variations” for piano solo
  • Wrote “Turkish Impressions,” an 18-minute work for strings, winds and hammered dulcimer, based on traditional Turkish modes and rhythms. Piece will be performed by the San Francisco Composers’ Chamber Orchestra November 4, 2017.
 

Musical Composition Awards

 

Music Teachers Association of California,

Composers Today State-wise Composition Competition:

“Laying Rails” – 1st Prize,  2015

“Journey for Gold” -  2nd Prize, 2013

“Origins” – 3rd Prize, 2012

“Theme and Variations” – 2nd Prize, 2012