At Yale College: The tempo of life is hectic for this student composer

The following story is from the Yale College website:

It’s a mid-December evening, just before winter recess, and Stephen Feigenbaum ‘12 of Branford College is looking for a place to stay in New Haven. He texts a few friends, explaining, “My room has turned into a recording studio!”

Feigenbaum is a member of Yale’s famous senior all-male a cappella group, the Whiffenpoofs, and is mid-way through a year-long leave to tour with the ensemble. At that time, his apartment had been taken over by NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” a reality show that brings a cappella groups from around the country to compete against each other. The Whiffenpoofs had recently been eliminated from the show, but were recording a song for its finale. Feigenbaum and the other Whiffs were soon to perform at Lincoln Center in a benefit concert, and then fly to Los Angeles for the live finale of “The Sing-Off.”

Even for Yalies, who often define themselves by how busy they are, Feigenbaum’s schedule could be jarring, but he takes it in stride. So when a friend texts back that she cannot host him, apologizing profusely, his response is typically laid back: “It’s OK. Just a little hectic. The show said they needed a song and were sending an engineer here and we had to find a place. So we did.”

Besides living the slightly hectic life of a student/musician (which involves frequent tours, weekly singing gigs at the recently reopened Mory’s, and [wearing one of the group’s trademark] tuxedos that made former Pussycat Doll and “Sing-Off” judge Nicole Scherzinger call the group “my little Whiffenpoof penguins”), Feigenbaum lives the equally unusual life of a student/composer.

Working in his apartment a few weeks ago, he sat between computer and keyboard, alternating between Sibelius (an industry-standard composition program) and playing the score for “Funk Pond” a musical he’s writing with Marshall Pailet ‘09. The musical is about fish in a funk band; more broadly, Feigenbaum says, it’s about “ways people manipulate tragedy for personal advantage.” He works intensely, occasionally making changes, but more often excited about the way the song is progressing: “This is going to be great.”

But a pop keeps going off: Facebook chat notifications. At one point, after he stops working to answer a chat message, he mumbles, “Should have closed Facebook, to be honest.” However, when asked about the balancing act between being a composer, conductor, singer, pianist,and a normal Yalie (friends, classes, social life), he says that it isn’t often a problem. Or at least he is used to it by now.

Feigenbaum started “improvising and learning to play songs I heard” early in elementary school, and since then music has been a continuous part of his life. When asked if he would ever consider doing anything else, he seems almost horrified by the idea: “I never considered anything but music as a possibility.”

This commitment has led to a variety of collaborations, serious multitasking, and, of course, a lot of music. During his freshman year, Feigenbaum rushed the Baker’s Dozen, an all-male a cappella group that he considers “more than a musical group.” The main purpose is to meet good people and become really good friends with them.” Along the way, he co-founded (with Ellis Ludwig-Leone ‘11 of Trumbull College) SIC InC, a boundary-breaking classical music ensemble whose most recent show integrated dancers. In the past, the group has combined video projections, rock star-style lighting, and elaborate technical effects and staging with classical music (some of it composed by Feigenbaum). The whole thing, he says, “wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been trying to reach people who go beyond the classical music scene.”

But he has not abandoned the more straightforward classical music scene, even as he tries to expand it. He would like to study composition further, and was recently the ASCAP Foundation Young Composer Fellow at Bowdoin International Music Festival. During his time at Yale, he has received a number of prizes for his composition work. He has also written commissioned pieces for the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and TwoSense (a collaboration between pianist Lisa Moore and cellist Ashley Bathgate), among many others (including the Yale Concert Band, Camerata and Glee Club).

When asked about his plans for the future, Feigenbaum has almost too much to say, but after running through a dizzying array of projects and hypotheses, he sums it all up with: “I don’t know where stuff is going to lead and that’s exciting. The most exciting stuff is stuff that you have no idea how it’s going to happen, and it keeps happening.”

Given all those plans, it might seem as if Feigenbaum leads a charmed musical life. Asked if he ever gets discouraged when things don’t work out, he says: “It doesn’t bother me at all. … If you think about it in the long run, though, then really nothing you do is wasteful.”

— By Elisa Gonzalez ‘11 of Pierson College

To listen to “Rooms By The Sea,” an original composition by Stephen Feigenbaum, visit the Yale College website at http://yalecollege.yale.edu/content/studentcomposer-life-improvisation.

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