From Waukesha to Prague: Jacob Beranek’s Music Soars
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Jacob Beranek
What started as a dreaded task for an 8-year-old has since given Jacob Beranek state, regional and national recognition.
While studying piano at the Waukesha County Conservatory of Music, Beranek’s instructor Sam Ecoff assigned him to compose one piece a year. Although Beranek admits he hated composing at first, it slowly grew on him and at age 11, he started competing.
Today, the 19-year-old Oconomowoc native is in his second year as composer-in-residence with the Midsummer’s Music Festival in Door County. Later this month he will spend two weeks in the Swiss Alps as a composition fellow at the Talis Festival & Academy in Saas-Fee and his wind ensemble piece Památník ("Memorial") will receive a European premiere at the Prague Castle in November.
Locally, Waukesha’s Jubilate Chorale premiered his choral composition To Soar with Peace as part of its Make a Joyful Noise! concert in May.
Vicki Taylor, director of Jubilate Chorale, was Beranek’s choir director at University Lake School and commissioned him to write the piece. Taylor also serves as director of music ministries and organist at Ascension Lutheran Church in Waukesha, where Beranek previously worked with her as an accompanist.
“Jacob is the type of student you are fortunate to get once in your career,” Taylor says. “His ability to communicate musically is an extraordinary gift.”
Beranek with Jubilate Chorale. Photo courtesy of Jacob Beranek.
Taylor explains that it is important for her to encourage and support young musicians through Jubilate Chorale, which is why she commissioned Beranek to write To Soar with Peace. Jubilate Chorale is an a cappella group composed of 36 singers committed to singing choral music from every period. Taylor started as the accompanist during the group’s inception in 1993, and is in her 10th season as director.
Beranek’s recent life change of moving away to college inspired To Soar with Peace. This past school year, Beranek completed his freshman year at Vanderbilt University’s prestigious Blair School of Music in Nashville, Tenn. His piece features two bible verses, Isaiah 40:31 in the Old Testament and Matthew 11:28-29 in the New Testament.
“Going off to college there was a lot of new things, a lot of trouble and a lot of stress,” Beranek explains. “The whole message is about finding hope and that was really important to me.”
The young musician explains that his composing process is different for every piece. He says choral music comes easier for him than instrumental since he can often read a text a couple times and already start to hear the rhythm. For instrumental, he has to take into consideration many different elements including how many instruments, what kind of structure it will take and how long the piece will last.
“I always try to take the audience on a journey with every piece I write,” Beranek says. “Of course it’s more difficult when you don’t have words, but it’s something that’s always at the front of my mind. I try to think how can I write something that will communicate powerful emotions to my listeners.”
Beranek is currently putting the final touches on his commissioned piece for Midsummer’s Music Festival, a quintet for English horn and strings entitled Partita melodica, featuring Margaret Butler from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. As part of his Door County residency, Beranek will give pre-concert talks and lecture on his music.
“I’m 19 and to think that I get paid to go to a festival, have a residency and professionally write music for world-class performers is a dream come true,” Beranek says.