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    • Noah Stein ’21

Artist of the Issue: Noah Stein ’21

Eli Ratner ’24 Campus Correspondent
From experimenting with musical notations as a child to getting national recognition for his composition, “Riparian Reeds,” Noah Stein ’21 has spent nearly his whole life developing as an artist.
Stein started playing music because “When I was younger, I used to constantly watch The Sound of Music, which I’m totally obsessed with.” He has maintained a passion for music ever since: “I started on toy pianos, then I began taking violin lessons when I was five, and I still play the violin now in the orchestra at Hopkins.”

With his growth as a musician, Stein has evolved as a composer. He described his earlier work as “totally incomprehensible” because “it doesn’t make any sense if you actually try to play it.” After many years of practice, Stein’s composing prowess has grown tremendously. His piece "Riparian Reeds" was recently selected as one of two high-school winners of the National Association for Music Education’s reed quintet 2020 Student Composers Competition. “To me, this honor is really special because of the reward of getting my piece professionally performed, which is a lot better than any computer rendering I could get my hands on,” Stein commented. Stein explained that real orchestras, unlike computer renderings, involve “the presence of individual interpretations - in a way, the flaws make the players more real.”

Stein elaborated on his music-generating process. Usually, Stein composes his work by centering it around a singular feeling or focus. He spends several weeks writing his pieces, though he mainly just “messes around until the moment of inspiration hits.” Stein added, “When I write music, it’s most important to be able to connect with the audience, and having music creates some feeling or idea within them rather than pushing the limits of music theory,” He continued: “I think it’s important to put feeling and connection first.” Yet, Stein elected to write his award-winning piece "Riparian Reeds" with a new approach. It was “written with less of a focus and more of a music-theory approach for most of it. It was my first piece where I stretched myself harmonically.”

Unlike his composing, Stein’s love for the violin has been challenged by the limitations of Covid-19. “When I’m playing [the violin] with other people, I like it more than, or as much as, composing. I like that feeling of a community, but with the pandemic and everyone being at home, you don’t get that same feeling over zoom.” His affection for composing, however, has not lessened. Stein still enjoys composing during Covid-19 “because it’s more introspective, and I enjoy the process of writing music more than just playing the violin by myself.”

Covid-19 has also impacted Stein because his works are meant to be played collaboratively. “My pieces can’t be performed anymore... I haven’t had a steady group to play with since the pandemic started and it is unclear when we will be able to get back to normal.” Although Stein and many other musicians have not been able to rehearse together, they are still finding ways to create socially-distanced music. Stein has found success with “having each person send in a clip of their piece, which I then put together and form an orchestra. Although this isn’t as good as the real thing, it is the best we can do.”

Stein hopes to bolster his musical reputation by “[entering] two more competitions this year. One of them is for a choral piece, which I haven’t done before, but I’m excited to try.” Stein was especially interested in this genre of music because “it is probably the best way to make money through writing music. When you make a reed composition, that’s great, for all the reed quintets out there to play, however few of them there are. But when you create a choral composition, it is played by orchestras everywhere.”

Stein says he’s planning to “pursue music as my major in college.” He doesn’t know what he plans to do musically after college, but he “might try to get a job writing music for video games or movies.” Reflecting on his multifaceted musical interests, Stein said, “Music is everywhere, so if you don’t love it, that’s fine, but everything becomes much more enjoyable if you do!”
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