Friends University is blessed to have not only an excellent teacher and performer on staff, but also a skilled composer in Daniel Racer, instructor of music.
Racer gives lessons for double bass, teaches music theory and composition, and is the chamber orchestra director at the University. But writing is his passion.
“It’s what I consider the most important thing I do,” Racer said. He writes various kinds of pieces, including chamber, jazz, orchestra and solos.
Racer received his bachelor’s in music education in 1997 from Southwestern University, and his master’s in composition and theory in 2000 from Wichita State University.
“Any kind of performance of any piece I can get – that’s a goal for me,” Racer said. “Whenever someone offers me an opportunity, I usually take it.”
Seven years ago, Racer began writing the piece “War Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.” He worked on it months upon months, until he was asked to rewrite it for a large orchestra. Then, in the fall of 2007, the Community Orchestra – with Dr. Jamie Knight, assistant professor of music, on piano – performed the piece at Friends University.
“It was a very difficult work, but [Dr. Knight] did an excellent job,” Racer said. Overall, Racer thought that the orchestra did very well; he was pleased with the result.
Racer is currently working on a new piece, not titled yet, based on the artwork of Native American artist Tillier Wesley.
The work is a commission from Kay Buskirk, adjunct viola instructor. When Wesley died of cancer in 2006, Buskirk wanted to honor him.
Since then, Racer has been working steadfastly on the piece between classes and lessons. The piece is written for three people to perform: Buskirk on viola, Racer on double bass and Cindy Thompson – who teaches oboe at Washburn University – on English horn.
There are six movements in the piece. Four of those are based on a Tillier painting, and the other two are called “Prelude” and “Lily of the Valley.” In “Prelude,” Racer took the birth and death dates of Tillier and transformed the numbers into pitches. “Lily of the Valley” was the name of Tillier’s favorite hymn.
“It’s not possible to represent everything,” Racer said. But he tried incorporating as much symbolism from Tillier’s paintings as he could. Tillier was known for doing things in threes, so Racer made the theme of the piece come back three times. Some examples of Tillier’s repeated symbols were the Kiowa dancers, which were abstract; the Leger drawings, which were from the early 20th century; and the butterflies, which represented his hope in Jesus.
Writing during the school year can be a bit stressful, Racer admitted. In the summer, it’s a lot easier, he said. But he encourages his students to go after what they desire.
“Make sure you don’t miss an opportunity,” Racer said.