- This is Poly
It would be a unique experience for our musicians to have any composer come to work with them as they prepare to play the composer’s piece in our Winter Concert. It is even more special when that composer is fellow Poly student Jordan Millar ‘24, who composed “Iridessa,” which the Upper School String Ensemble will perform on December 8. Through all her achievements, Millar remains humble and focused on honing her craft.
“It means a lot to me to have my work performed at Poly!” Millar said. “My life as a composer is something that mostly exists outside of school. I have been composing since I was nine and I’ve written many compositions for different ensembles and orchestras, but I have never actually had my work performed within the school community. Therefore, the opportunity to have my work played at Poly is very exciting! I love that the school is interested in showcasing my compositions, and I hope to continue sharing my music within the school community.”
Director of Music Dan Doughty is organizing the Winter Concert and directing the Concert Choir, Advanced Concert Choir, and Blue Notes. “Poly is lucky to have such a talented and accomplished composer among its study body,” he said of Millar. “We are thrilled to collaborate with Jordan and for the opportunity to feature her work!” Millar is also a member of Poly’s Excellence in the Arts Certificate program.
Doughty added, “This is the first time we have had a student of Jordan’s skill level and success composing at Poly, and the first time we have featured a student composition at a major Poly Music concert. We are excited for this opportunity and hope to continue to collaborate with Jordan during her time at Poly. We also hope to help foster the talent of a few up-and-coming composers in our community.”
Millar ‘24 visited Carrie Dowell‘s Upper School String Ensemble class in Room 201 to discuss the origins of her composition and hear the musicians play it for her. The students asked if she played an instrument and Millar responded that she had piano lessons as a child, but now has a keyboard that she uses for composing. Millar told the ensemble that composing for strings is her “favorite instrumentation.”
After hearing the musicians play “Iridessa” through, Millar suggested taking the pizzicato section a bit slower. She listened intently as they played again.
Millar, who lives in Brooklyn, got her start as a composer at the age of nine in the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program. Her early work was performed during a Philharmonic Young People’s Concert. In 2018, her piece “Boogie Down Uptown,” was performed at the New York Philharmonic’s Concert for Schools and Concerts in the Park series. She also earned the ASCAP Foundation’s Morton Gould Young Composers Award. During the pandemic and in response to Black Lives Matter, Millar composed an arrangement of “We Shall Overcome” for the New York Philharmonic. In June 2020, Millar was featured on the Metropolitan Opera’s Facebook page for that arrangement.
Composer Valerie Coleman mentored Millar as a Luna Composition Lab Fellow during 2020-21. Millar’s work, “Masquerade” was performed at the Luna Lab Solar Flare Music Festival and professionally recorded.
Last May, Millar’s works were premiered as part of Intersection Music’s LISTEN project, a multi-year initiative celebrating the voices of female-identifying, non-binary, or gender non-conforming composers.
In October this year, Millar was featured at The Little Orchestra Society concert series: Prodigies! Mozart, Mendelssohn and More. Her piece “Boogie Down Uptown,” was performed by LOS at four public concerts for children.
Millar said ‘Iridessa’ “was originally written for and performed by a string quartet, and I later adapted it for a full orchestra performance at The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and in Central Park. For the performance of ‘Iridessa’ at the upcoming Winter Concert, I arranged it for the string ensemble, which includes the double bass!”
Millar explained that she always uses stories and characters to inspire her work. “Lately,” she said, “I have been particularly interested in transforming child-like or fantasy characters and beings, particularly fairies, into string music. ‘Iridessa’ is the fourth composition in a series that I am creating. Iridessa is the name of the light fairy from the Disney Tinkerbell movies, which I loved watching when I was younger. With this in mind, I wanted the piece to resemble the light and fantastical qualities that this particular fairy possesses. There are lots of drawn out chordal sequences in order to really bring audiences into the world of the light fairy. I would best describe this piece as ethereal and magical.”
How does Millar balance composing with studies and her role on The Polygon? “Sometimes it can definitely be hard to balance my schoolwork, my position as Managing Editor of The Polygon, and my work as a professional composer,” she responded, “I make sure to use a planner or a calendar to keep track of all deadlines. At the same time, I typically work on about two to three different compositions at the same time. In terms of balancing the many compositions I write simultaneously, I try to dedicate an equal amount of time to each, and I always create an outline or drawing so I know what I imagine each piece to sound like. If two pieces are very close to each other in terms of deadlines, then I try to finish whatever is due first, and quickly move onto the next!”