Diverse Expression Fills Award-winning Compositions

Grad students recognized for works that address cultural coexistence, challenges.

Gonzalo Garrido-Lecca, doctoral student, music composition, College of Music. Photo by Kurt Stepnitz.
Sarah Palermo, masters student, music composition, College of Music. Photo by Jordan Noble.

Two Michigan State University College of Music graduate students were recognized in February with All-University Excellence in Diversity awards. Specifically they were honored for “Students Making a Difference Through Artistic Expression.”

The composition for symphony orchestra from doctoral candidate Gonzalo Garrido-Lecca incorporates sounds and rhythms from around the world, while the song from master’s student Sarah Palermo takes on the timely issues of identity and youth suicide.

Garrido-Lecca describes his composition, titled “Danza de la Terra” (Dance of the Earth) as “an example of how different cultural musical practices can blend together to form a modern, unique, rich and coherent expression.” His aim was to make Danza “stand as a symbol of multicultural coexistence,” he says. In the piece influences from Spain’s Arabic past blend with melodies from Andes cultures, and percussion rhythms from northern Africa to create a work for a modern symphony orchestra.

“This mixture exhibits the complex cross-cultural reality that is a characteristic in most of the South American continent,” Garrido-Lecca says.

He wrote “Danza de la Terra” last year for the MSU Concert Orchestra after winning a large ensemble competition in the College of Music. The experience was so positive he decided to submit his composition for the campus-wide diversity award. 

“It feels really good to be recognized,” he says. “I came to MSU because I was looking for a different view on composition, and Michigan is known for its high level of musicians. Here I can collaborate with a lot of different performers and people who are interested in making new music.”

Garrido-Lecca is a native of Peru and has been studying in East Lansing for two years as he works toward his Doctor of Musical Arts in composition.

“Working in a diverse and inclusive environment makes my experience as a composer richer,” he says. “I have more sources of inspiration, more points of reference and a broader aesthetic view.”

Master’s student Palermo says she also has been impressed with the opportunities at MSU that include working with a number of talented musicians and attending lots of concerts, especially coming from her undergraduate studies at a small college in New Jersey.

Palermo won the diversity award during her first year on campus studying composition with a song she wrote that addresses the issue of suicide among LGBT youth, who Palermo says are four times more likely to attempt the act than their straight peers.

The song, for which Palermo wrote the music and lyrics, is titled “No Way Out” and is part of a full-length musical “Crazy Like Us,” which she co-wrote with a friend, Mary Bliden, during their undergraduate days at Westminster Choir College. The show tells the story of five college students at a music conservatory as they come to terms with their individual and collective identities.  

“No Way Out,” Palermo says, “is more about social justice and human rights. That’s what resonated with me when I was looking at the requirements for this award.” She calls the song “a call to action” for greater understanding and support for young people questioning who they are.

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