Associate Professor of Music Luke Dahn won the 2014 John Donald Robb Composer’s Competition.
“I have entered dozens and dozens of competitions, and I’ve been named a prizewinner in far less than 5 percent of them,” said Dahn, who has been composing for over 20 years.
This award is hosted by the University of Mexico and was established in 1989.
Dahn switched to a music composition major his sophomore year of undergraduate studies, and has been on the journey of composing ever since.
“It’s been great fun,” he said.
During his years of submitting pieces into competitions, he has learned a thing or two about the process.
“Entering competitions is a tricky thing,” Dahn said. “You have to train yourself to send your music off and then forget it. Many times when I receive a rejection letter or email, it’s from a competition that I had forgotten I entered.”
This competition was a unique experience for Dahn as his music reflected the work of John Donald Robb.
“Robb was an important ethnomusicologist who made field recordings of Native American and Hispanic peoples indigenous to the New Mexico region,” he said. “My piece, ‘Buffalo Dance,’ was based on a Native American chant by the same name.”
The fact that he won this award was also unique because of his past submissions to the competition.
“I submitted ‘Buffalo Dance’ to this exact competition back in 2010, and it was not named winner,” Dahn said. “When the biennial competition came around again in 2014, I submitted it again only as an afterthought. To my surprise, it won. You just never know.”
Submitting an original piece is a lengthy process.Dahn collaborated with saxophonist Kenneth Tse, a faculty member at the University of Iowa. The piece was written for piano and alto saxophone.
Dahn chose to collaboratively compose this piece to bring another composer’s ideas to the music.
“We decided that it would be interesting to use a Native American tune as a basis for the piece,” Dahn said. “After weeks of searching the Robb archives for the right source material, I eventually found ‘Buffalo Dance’,”
Dahn and Tse began working on the piece and completed the first version in 2008.
“The first version of ‘Buffalo Dance’ honestly wasn’t very good, and I knew it,” Dahn said.
The duo revised the music for a year, until it arrived at the piece it is today.
“It’s often the case that the pieces that are dearest to an artist are those that he or she has to wrestle with the most,” Dahn said. “That is certainly the case with ‘Buffalo Dance.’ It didn’t come easy or like a bolt of lightning, but through the collaborative process and a little patience, it became something worthwhile.”
Dahn’s piece will be performed at the 44th Annual John Donald Robb Composers’ Symposium at the University of New Mexico, March 22-25.