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Joseph Perkins: Variations on a Theme

Joseph Perkins“I believe Salvador Dali said it best: ‘Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.’”

While at Transylvania, Joseph Perkins ’13 has been the sound board operator for a variety of theater productions, from The Bakkai, a rock opera version of Euripides’ play; to Caroline, an emotional two-man show written and performed by Transylvania students; to Almost, Maine, a widely produced comedy.

In spring 2012, he completed an internship at the Balagula Theater in downtown Lexington, where he worked with Balagula's composer and sound designer, Rob Thomas, to compose the music for a production of Albert Camus’ Caligula. The musicians collaborated to develop a musical accompaniment to Caligula’s gradual descent into madness.

Evidently, they were successful. Candace Chaney, contributing theater critic for the Lexington Herald-Leader, wrote that the “original music lends an epic flavor to the play without competing with the drama onstage.”

“This was a challenge for me, because it required me to apply all that I had learned in my classes outside of a classroom setting,” says Perkins. The first step was to sit in on a few rehearsals and take notes about the dramatic shifts in the play. The notes later helped identify when the music needed to be softer, louder, more somber, more climactic, and so on. Perkins was responsible for the intermission music, writing each track as a continuation of an overarching theme—the weaving in and out of sanity.

“I had the music reflect this theme by having a simple piano ostinato play throughout the entire piece, acting as the foundation. I then applied different musical constructs in terms of phrasing, melody, and harmony. A lot of the tracks were layered on top of each other, and in doing this, I had parts that varied from being consonant to being dissonant. This gave the music a sort of minimalist feel.”

Perkins had originally chosen Transylvania because of its strong computer science program. When he realized that computer science wasn’t exactly his “cup of tea,” he took some philosophy classes for fun. Philosophy then became his minor area of study, complementing his study of music technology.

He now appreciates his ability to incorporate concepts from computer science and music into his philosophy classes and vice versa. “Every day has been an ongoing challenge, with my professors constantly pushing me. I have done my best to take the knowledge that I have gained from them and apply it to the real world.”

One of Perkins’s original pieces, “Just Lounging Around,” was selected for the International Mix of the 2011 60X60 competition, a project combining 60 works, each 60 seconds in length, submitted by composers from all over the world. The goal is to present a slice of what is happening in the contemporary music scene, mixing musical styles and aesthetics in a performance synchronized to an on-stage analog clock.

“There are many times where I’m writing a piece of music and I get so frustrated because it isn’t ‘perfect,’ but you have to realize that you will never be perfect. If you strive to be, you will only be graced with failure. Do the best that you can, and be satisfied with it.”

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