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Updated 10:00 AM February 20, 2006




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Spotlight: Music comes to life

When the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra (A2SO) plays a jazzy passage that grows into an energetic, vigorous movement at its March 11 show in the Michigan Theater, Erika Nelson will be watching and listening with particular anticipation and interest.
Nelson (Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

That's because Nelson, a marketing assistant for the University Musical Society (UMS), will be taking in the world premiere of her piece, "dVRG." Five months of hard work spent composing will come to fruition when the independent orchestra performs her composition.

"It will definitely be the highlight of my spring," she says.

Nelson promises to be more prepared for the A2SO performance than the time she and friend DeVon Russell Gray gave a joint performance of their compositions during the pairs' sophomore year at the New England Conservatory of Music. Nelson and Gray—for whom "dVRG" was named—each wrote half of the pieces to be performed at the concert, then joined forces to create one work together. But the combined work still was unfinished the night of the concert.

"We finished the piece during intermission and it was performed right after intermission," Nelson says. "Despite the rushed effort, it turned out to be a huge hit."

Nelson wrote her first piece at the age of 5 on a piece of paper that included a few scribbles, her address and some backward "threes." She started composing one piece a year starting in 4th grade, and wrote 8-10 compositions in high school. From the time Nelson was an undergraduate, she composed two major works and 2-3 smaller pieces a year.

For Nelson, the first step to composing a piece often involves sitting down at her piano and "goofing around, improvising, letting my hands do what they want to."

"Any snippets that pop out I'll just write down a few things, but I usually don't start out with anything specific," she adds. "From there, it's taking my favorite aspects and thinking about how to turn them into something bigger and grander."

She currently has a piece in the works for A2SO associate concertmaster Adrienne Jacobs and Swedish saxophonist, Erik Rönmark. She also hopes to one day write some electronic tango music.

Nelson earned a master's degree in composition from the School of Music in May 2005 and interned at UMS for two years during her graduate school days. The internship supplied her with countless experiences beyond those she had in her academic program.

"It's seeing the production side of music as opposed to the actual creation of it," Nelson says. "It's how art is brought into a community, what value it holds, and how to get people to come to it."

For additional information on the March 11 concert, visit

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