Michael Gancz

At the Off-Broadway Theatre last week, alto flute, mezzo soprano vocals and electronics came together in a 25-minute song cycle — a multi-movement composition of songs related to one another through a thematic idea — composed by Michael Gancz ’21, titled “Red Line to Union Station.”

The title refers to the metro line from Gancz’s house in Maryland to the Washington D.C. Union Station. Gancz takes the red line every time he travels from his home to Yale, and the piece explores the theme of separation coupled with the frustrations of maintaining a long-distance relationship. While arranging the music, Gancz said, he endeavored to tap into the “specific, personal emotional meaning” of the subject matter.

According to Gancz, “Red Line to Union Station” — performed on Oct. 24 — was his “first serious experiment in being honest as a composer.”

The piece was originally composed as a short experiment in his composition class last semester, and turned into a longer piece over the summer. The music was not written for a grade, and Gancz said that he appreciated the opportunity to write a piece that did not “defer creative authority” to a set of assignment requirements. While Gancz found the composition process “frustrating and emotionally draining,” he said that this attention to detail and process was also what made the piece effective.

“Just telling yourself to start with a blank slate without restrictions forces you to question what every single aspect of the piece means in crazy detail,” Gancz said.

The music focuses on both emotional and physical distance as the metro travels stop by stop, further and further from home.

While student-composed pieces performed through the music department are usually six to seven minutes long, “Red Line to Union Station” runs for 25 minutes. Gancz said that the length of the piece is partly due to the need for repetition, a key element of the song cycle.

Gancz explained that the repetition of brief musical motives with very little harmonic content explores the idea of “distance through miscommunication.” The cycle also employs prerecorded sounds, including flute melodies and a seven-minute raw recording of the red line metro.

According to Konrad Kaczmarek ’02, who teaches composition seminars in the music department, students in the seminars have the opportunity to work with musicians in residency through the Yale College New Music program. Gancz’s piece was performed by the voice/piano duo Jennifer Beattie and Adam Marks alongside flutist Margaret Lancaster. Gancz said that working with professional musicians was an informative
educational experience.

The performance also employs repetition through an animation by Alice Tirard ’20. The 20-second video involving abstract images of a red line and red blocks plays on a loop throughout the musical performance.

Tirard and Gancz share an interest in combining different forms of media. Tirard said that the animation was created frame-by-frame with a technique called “straight-forward animation.” She tried to create something that could be seamlessly repeated, represent “cyclical travel through different kinds of emotions” and explore the expressive ability of the line.

“I think having a visual focal point really helped people latch on to the narrative,” Gancz said.

Gancz is involved in various music groups on campus, including the Davenport Pops Orchestra, Yale Jazz Ensemble and the Guild of Carillonneurs.



Carrie Zhou | carrie.zhou@yale.edu