In a practice room at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute, Isabel Guarco ’20 watched the snow falling outside and felt inspired to write a piece of music that “sounded like that image,” she said.

On Nov. 8 — three years after that day — the Yale Undergraduate Chamber Orchestra performed Guarco’s piece titled “Snow” in Battell Chapel.

“I started writing this piece for strings and winds, and I wanted to begin the piece with that image of snow flurries,” Guarco said. Guarco notated the string sections with arrows pointing up and down on the score instead of notes to indicate the strings should play random notes up and down the scale. “As the piece goes on it gets a little bit heartier until that climactic moment where there’s this sweeping melody.”

The flurry-like motif in the string sections continues throughout the piece.

This season, YUCO is seeking to perform more pieces by student composers. Guarco said Emery Kerekes ’21 and Jacob Miller ’21, co-artistic directors of YUCO, approached her in pursuit of a composition. Guarco did not finish “Snow” while she was studying at the Peabody Institute, but she returned to it after YUCO’s proposition. Though she rewrote much of the piece, the central theme of the snow flurry remained the same.

The orchestra rehearsed a preliminary version of “Snow” in early October. The final version was completed a week before the concert. Guarco observed each rehearsal of the final version to work directly with the orchestra, particularly to explain the nontraditional music notation. Kerekes, who conducted the piece at the concert, said that it was helpful to have Guarco there to answer all
his questions.

Kerekes said he enjoyed the cooperation between the orchestra and Guarco.

“Working with a student composer feels so much more like a collaborative process,” he said.

Kerekes added that “Snow” effectively contrasts a strong structure in the violins, violas, cellos and basses with “diddling” lines in other parts, creating a dramatic effect.

Guarco said she thought a chamber orchestra would be the perfect ensemble for the piece. A string quartet would be too small for the fuller and larger sections, while a full symphony orchestra would produce too much sound for a snow flurry.

Jonathan Jalbert ’22, a board member of YUCO, described what he thought was unique about “Snow.”

“I enjoyed the transition from the fast flurries at the beginning of the piece to the lush, almost triumphant chords that the string orchestra [belts] out later,” Jalbert said. “I’ve talked to Isabel before about her interest in writing film scores, so there was an extra aspect of imagery that accompanied the music for me, which I thought was special.”

Guarco transferred from the Peabody Institute to Yale during her sophomore year.

“One of the really nice things about being here as opposed to being at conservatory is that there are so many different musical ensembles at Yale and people who play more casually,” Guarco said. “At music school, for example, every [student] composer gets one performance by an orchestra in their whole four years here. But I’ve been at Yale for three years and every year I’ve had something read by an orchestra, which is lovely.”

Guarco is still experimenting with her personal compositional style, but said she wants to compose music that is “cinematic and emotional.”

“I would say I always return to the psychological and emotional aspects of music,” Guarco said. “I don’t write music necessarily to experiment or to discover, but really just because I
love it.”

Guarco is considering a career in film score composition.


Marisol Carty |

Marisol Carty covers Music. She is a sophomore double majoring in Economics and Philosophy.