Music composition leads South student to be recognized state wide


Eli Shimanski

Hanna Bolstrom is in mid swing to bat for her softball team.This game was between the South Adapted Softball team and the South Suburban Flyers. This game ended with a tie 0-0. Bolstrom is a senior this year and has won the Athena awards for South high school. “She is the happiest girl I know. [She’s] always smiling, always happy, always supportive of her members, [and] just upbeat,” said Athletic office mamger Lynn Heldt. Photo: Asanti Bekele

Samara Adam, Staff Writer

Step aside Mozart, Bach, and Haydn, there’s a new up and coming musical prodigy, and he’s one of our very own South High students. Senior Nicholas Christenson can play multiple instruments, composes his own music and is part of multiple bands and performing groups.

Christenson has been involved in music for a long time. He began taking piano lessons as a kindergartener. “My older brother played it before me and I wanted to do it,” Christenson said.

“I’ve known Nicholas since he was 5 or 6, maybe even younger! I taught his older brother piano, so it feels like I’ve known Nicholas his whole life,” Christenson’s piano teacher Cathy Smetana said in an email interview.

“When I was younger my parents encouraged me to do music stuff,” Christenson said. When he was younger there was a time where he had even been considering quitting his piano lessons. “I wanted to quit piano lessons… my mom was like ‘no you have to keep doing this, when I was your age I quit piano lessons and I regret it now,’ so I had to keep doing it, and around 8th grade I got really into music so I wanted to do more of it,” Christenson said.

As he got older he also found that he was being encouraged to pursue music more by his peers. For example, he originally began playing bass because his friend had been interested in it.  “My friend was like ‘oh yeah I wanna play the bass,’ and I was like ‘oh yeah that’s a good idea.’ He never actually did [learn to play bass], but then I did,” Christenson said.

He began playing guitar in 8th grade because it was something he had a personal interest in pursuing. “I was listening to Indie music at the time and wanted to be able to do that more,” Christenson said.

Once he began getting more excited about pursuing music he began taking more classes for it, some of them through South High. “I’ve taken orchestra and jazz band since I was a Freshman, and this year I’m doing the music theory and composition class,” Christenson said. He also began taking musical composition lessons outside of South in November of 2015.

Even though Christenson is talented and passionate about music, there have been some obstacles that have made it hard for him. “With bass it’s technically pretty hard for me there are no frets or anything, it takes a long time to get comfortable playing the notes,” Christenson said.

Another issue he’s come across is complications with his composition software. “I use MuseScore which is a free software, and it’s pretty bad. I mean it’s a lot of stuff that’s so hard to do, you have to do freaky workarounds so you know, it’s not a professional program,” Christenson said. He is hoping to purchase a more advanced composing program called Finale in the near future.

Christenson ran into some issues while translating the music he had created in his head to the actual sounds in real life. “There’s so much stuff that I hear when I’m listening to music that I want to be able to do but I just don’t have the technical ability to achieve those effects,” Christenson said.

However, while he has had his struggles, he has also found many positives to music making and playing. “I think my favorite thing about playing an instrument is when you’re playing with other people and you’re just really in sync with each other and it just feels really good to be playing like that and really feel connected to yourself and the other people and be a collective conscious,” Christenson said.

Christenson also really enjoys how “with composing you can be really careful and methodical and everything can be perfect if you spend enough time on it,” Christenson said.

A strength that Christenson has in music is that he is willing to push himself to learn new things. “Because he loves interesting sounds and harmonies, we’ve been able to explore more modern music than most of my students will tolerate,” Smetana said.

He is also willing to experiment with things that may be outside of his comfort zone, which can be a challenging thing for many people. “Nicholas and I have very different musical voices and aesthetics. I have helped him by challenging his ideas, assisting him in finding more effective ways to notate what he wants performers to do, and explaining instrument-specific details like transposition, range, and notation,” Troy Strand, Nicholas’ composition teacher said in an email interview.

“Nicholas has a genuine curiosity about and fascination with sound. He isn’t turned off by dissonant harmonies or challenging rhythms, rather he finds them intriguing! It is so refreshing to have a student who hears and appreciates music on a deeper level,” Smetana said.

Christenson’s time and dedication to music playing and composing has really payed off, and it’s opened doors to many opportunities for him. Christenson is in multiple bands/performing groups, his main one being “Halcyon Daze”. A musical piece he composed for the cello and piano was played by professional musicians on MPR recently as well. He was named the Minnesota Varsity Showcase Composer for his piece “The Burnt Offerings (and the Peace Offerings)”.

Many people have taken notice to Nicholas’ musical talent. “He has a knack for creating beautiful and intense moments that I feel causes a transfer of passion throughout other members of the band,” George Adzick, a band member from Halcyon Daze, said in an email interview. “I’m always humming or whistling compositions of his,” Adzick said.

Music isn’t just a phase for Christenson. “I want to [pursue music as a career], I’m probably going to major in music at college and try to do stuff with that,” Christenson said.

He has worked so hard the last few years in finding his voice and it’s amazing to see that his work is paying off. He’s got multiple colleges opening their doors to him and he’s quickly becoming known as an up and comer in the Minnesota classical music scene. I’m very proud of the things he has accomplished,” Strand said.