FCS Commissioned Music

A light in the ocean banner

A Light in the Ocean

by Chris Pilsner

“A Light in the Ocean” was commissioned by Wes Kenney and the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra in memory of Melanie Valente in 2019. It premiered at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins on October 5, 2019.

“A Light in the Ocean” is a pure reflection of the wonders of life across our planet.  As I composed the music, I consistently envisioned the beauty and spectacle of stepping into nature and seeing the flourish of life around me.  And this is no more exemplified than in the underwater expanse of the ocean.

From the outset, I knew it was essential to give this seascape a melody that matched its innocence and wonder.  This was very important to me because I feel like melody has become a lost art in much of the classical music being composed today.  But there is a reason that so much music in our history is great, and that is largely due to a melody that connects it together.  My melody, while intentionally simple in nature, slowly develops and changes over the course of the piece to help exemplify the ever-changing life cycle of the world.

Beyond melody, “A Light in the Ocean” also relies heavily upon the Dorian mode.  This means that instead on emphasizing the traditional first note of a major scale, my music finds its foundation on the second note.  In result, the Dorian mode has a minor quality but with an added brightness and “light” to its raised 6th note.  Furthermore, I tried to create a sense of gentle movement in the orchestra to give each moment a water-like quality.

Being a native-born citizen of Fort Collins, it was an honor composing this piece for Wes Kenney and the Fort Collins Symphony, as well as sharing it with my hometown community.  I cannot express how much appreciation I have for the incredible music teachers I had the privilege of being mentored by and can honestly say that my career would not have been possible without them.

— Chris Pilsner, Composer

For more about Chris Pilsner and his music, visit his website at ChrisPilsner.com

Greg Smith Composer


by Gregory Smith

The World Premiere of VIBE was presented on January 17th, 2019 in Fort Collins, Colorado. Maestro Wes Kenney conducted the Fort Collins Symphony, Gregory Smith narrated, and the students and teachers of the Poudre School District performed their roles “amazingly”.

An exploration of sound, VIBE is driven by

Topics explored include:

  • how energy vibrates air molecules, forms sound waves, and travels to our ears
  • how our voices produce sound
  • how instruments produce sound
  • the speed of sound and the significance of having two ears
  • reverb and echo
  • how sound behaves in air, water, solids, and in space

Learn more about Greg Smith at GregorySmithMusic.com

Ethan Boxley Composer

Fanfare for the National Anthem

by Ethan Boxley

No public Fourth of July celebration or sporting event is complete without a rousing rendition of Francis Scott Key’s The Star-Spangled Banner.

And, while nothing is nearer and dearer to the American ear than our national anthem, it is just a STINKER to sing!  Why?  Because John Stafford Smith composed this tune in the key of B flat major with a very wide vocal range.  Played in its original key, the work is pitched a titch too high for altos and basses and a tad too low for sopranos and tenors to sing comfortably in tune.

During this year’s opening Masterworks concert, the Fort Collins Symphony will tame the highs and lows of this challenging melody.  The impetus comes from Dr. Ed Siegel, a native son and avid FCS supporter, who has championed lowering the key of the national anthem for over two decades.  Following conversations with Siegel, FCS conductor Wes Kenney asked 2017 music composition intern Ethan Boxley to transpose the anthem into the key of G major. Boxley, a Fort Collins native, recently graduated with his Bachelor of Music in Composition from the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.

Boxley’s resulting composition, Fanfare for the National Anthem, opened the Symphony’s 2018 Masterworks 1 concert.  Happily, this will give the majority of us a chance to sing through “the rocket’s red glare” without falling flat!

Read more about Ethan and the Fanfare for the National Anthem on his website: https://www.ethanboxley.com/

Symphony Interruptus Banner

Symphony Interruptus

by Charlie Hatchette

Cell phones are the natural enemy of any live performing arts organization. An accidental ring is extremely annoying to the performers and everyone else in attendance. The unexpected sound causes audience members to wonder, “Was that my phone?” before pulling them out to make sure they had indeed remembered to turn it off prior to the performance. It is a precarious relationship between audience members and cell phone technology and one that adds drama to any live situation.

It is within this context that Fort Collins resident, artistic “Mad Scientist,” and community treasure Charlie Hatchette developed the concept for an original performance art project titled Symphony Interruptus. This short-form video documents what Hatchette describes as a comedic narrative depicting dozens of rogue cell phones that ring in the most inopportune moment and collaborate to take over a Fort Collins Symphony performance. Hatchette wondered how the cell phones would respond to being turned off before every performance. Would they riot and create chaos or would they decide to work together to create order? The result is an initially awkward moment that turns to humor then surprise in a genuine live situation.

Hatchette’s vision was put into action with help from many of Fort Collins’ leading artistic visionaries in this 100% local production. Jim David, CSU Professor of Composition & Music Theory, and several of his students turned the concept into a working piece of music appropriately titled “iCannon.” The piece was performed by the Fort Collins Symphony at the Lincoln Center on May 10th, 2014, and conducted by FCS Music Director Wes Kenney. The setup, the score, and the audience reaction was wonderfully captured on film by video Producer/ Director, Chris Bell of Advanced Media Services. In addition to his creative vision, Hatchette developed a boombox speaker technology to spread the rogue cell phone tones around the theater to the unsuspecting crowd.

For more about how this video was created visit: