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Metal guitarist earns music composition scholarship

December  11, 2013

Video courtesy of Kevin Killelea

Four years ago, Jake Killelea founded melodic death metal band Chains of Tyranny. This year, he won Augustana's first scholarship in music composition.

He received the Deisenroth Scholarship — one of the college's top music awards — and participated with other honors music students in the annual honors recital in Wallenberg Hall on Nov. 26. The premiere of his Suite No. 1 for Solo String Bass was performed by Patricia Aparecida Da Silva, an Augustana music instructor completing her doctoral studies in music at the University of Iowa.

Dr. Jacob Bancks, assistant professor of music and head of the composition program, is glad to welcome Killelea, a first-year transfer student, to Augustana. "He's a talented musician, and his piece for the honors recital is very mature and intelligent," Bancks said. "I'm especially grateful that a first-rate musician like Professor Da Silva performed the piece."

Killelea founded the metal band Chains of Tyranny.

Killelea, a native of Ottawa, Ill., has been writing music almost since he started playing guitar in eighth grade. His first musical love? "Metal, definitely, and that plays somewhat of a role in what I write," he said. "I just gravitate toward certain sounds." In this bass suite, he thinks people might hear it in the last movement (see embedded video).

The process of composer and performer working together involved a few weeks of rehearsal and review. Da Silva would play for him in the Bergendoff Hall practice rooms, and send videos to which Killelea would respond with advice by email or phone. 

Although not a common choice for a solo instrument, "string bass is awesome," said Killelea. He confessed to picking up the tuba in high school because it was "big, underrated and more unconventional."

Currently he is working on a string quartet for two violas, cello and string bass. After spending so much time working on a piece (the bass suite took about six weeks to compose, not including collaboration with the soloist), Killelea agreed it can be a challenge to move on. Inspiration comes from music itself.

"People are always doing great things musically," he said. "I can hear something and be inspired to go and work on something new."

Killelea feels composition could be a logical background for teaching. He is considering a double major in composition and music education, so that he might teach and take commissions at the same time.

"Strangely enough, I would aim toward teaching middle school," he said. "Kids are more competent; it's a good age for possibility. They have more room for experience, if they are willing to take it.

"It's also a great way to learn time management," he said. "They have to practice a lot."

About the program

One of Augustana’s newer academic programs, music composition is one of four options in the music performance major; the others are piano, instrumental music and voice. According to Dr. Bancks, the program currently has about 16 majors and minors “writing in all kinds of styles, from many different perspectives.” The program also is open to participating students who are not music majors.

Beth Roberts