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Roth finds modern spin in 'Bugs'
Jenny Gierhan
Antelope Staff
Courtesy Photo
"Bugs," the original composition of Robert Roth, was the single student selection performed at the New Music Festival Feb. 14.

Walking away from my interview with Robert Roth, a junior music composition major from Arcadia, Neb., whose student work was performed in the New Music Festival Feb. 14, I was completely dumbfounded. I haven't felt that lost since I asked for directions in a foreign country.

Yada, yada "tone row" and blah blah blah "musical gesture" were just a few of the several phrases that left me reaching back in that educational file to recall something, anything from Music 100.

Roth, by contrast, is fluent in the language of music composition, and when spoken with an instrument, music surpasses cultural understanding. However, when described using words, only those with a strong musical background can speak the language of music.  Lucky for us, when you put the two together, something magical happens and our minds surpass roadblocks to reach understanding.

While we might stand in awe of Roth, he feels the same for acclaimed masters. "It just blows my mind how he forms the line and contours the phrase," said Roth about one of his inspirations, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Yeah, okay…? But he says it with such excitement and passion that you can't help but agree.

Roth didn't wake up as a 5-year-old and inherently know he wanted to be a composer. Life evolved, and through a passion for music, he says composition chose him.

When I asked if he was nervous for his "amateur" piece “Bugs” to be performed along with the music of such seasoned composers from all over the U.S. and Germany, Roth smiled, let out a non-intimidated chuckle and shook his head. "This is actually my third year participating in the New Music Festival," he said.

Writing “Bugs” didn't happen in one try. "Usually an entire piece comes from me randomly playing around on the piano, getting a few notes at a time," Roth said.

Several of these random acts came together to form “Bugs,” a 12-minute, three-movement piece performed by UNK flute student Brooke Harris at a 5:30 p.m. performance during the two-day festival. Roth’s was the only student work presented.

Getting back to the music, the first movement “Swarm” is a sort of flute fury sound. The second movement, “Lady Bird” was a sort of upbeat trill, and the third movement, “Grasshopper,” jumped around more than a 5-year-old in a bouncy house.

"The idea isn't a new one, but the way I did it was," Roth said. “Bugs” pushed the musical envelope, with its a-tonality giving something of a modern spin to an old idea.

Imagine how Roth could write 12 minutes all about some nasty little bugs. No wonder there are endless hours of songs about love.


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