It’s not every day that one has the privilege of being at the premier of the first symphony of a fifteen-year-old young man. Last Tuesday night, Tyler Bouque shared with the world Love Speaks, a symphony composed in honor of former Troy High School Symphonic Band member and percussionist Jacob Love (1991-2009), who died of aplastic anemia in 2009, shortly after his high school graduation.
Last June, Tyler, who is a high school sophomore at Troy High School (Michigan), received a music scholarship from a fund created by the Love family in honor of Jake. Tyler chose to use the money to attend a two week intensive summer course in composition at Western Michigan University. He also decided that instead of writing a thank you to Jake’s parents, he would compose a thank you. The composition would honor Jake’s life and would be called Love Speaks.
The first night after receiving the award, Tyler came home, started sketching out ideas and wrote down whatever melodies came to mind. He knew that it would be a story symphony. The next day he emailed Jake’s parents to thank them for the gift and ask what they thought about his idea. Tyler went over to the Love’s home and listened to stories about Jake. He also contacted Jake’s friends, heard anecdotes and used favorite memories to stimulate his creativity.
When Tyler arrived at Western Michigan University, he tacked up multiple pictures and newspaper articles about Jake around his dorm room. The wallpaper on his laptop was a photo of Jake and his dad. Tyler stayed up until one, two and three a.m., sitting with the images in his head. He’d hole up in practice rooms for four to six hours at a time. Tyler says that his inspiration came from God and the phenomenal instruction of his composition professor, Dr. Lisa Coons. God had been preparing Tyler for this moment in his young life because of the encouragement of his family, teachers and his United Methodist congregation, where Tyler has been singing, serving, praying and learning how to be a leader his entire life.
Love Speaks evolved as a five-movement symphony, with names chosen by Jake’s parents to symbolize different stages of his life:
I. A Buddy for Billy (Jake as a baby)
II. Brown Eyes and Drum Beats (Jake’s childhood)
III. Hello “J Lo” (Jake’s high school years)
IV. Quiet Courage (Jake becomes sick)
V. Stay Strong (Jake’s ascension)
One does not need to have known Jake to be moved by Tyler’s thirty-five minute composition, which featured soloists who were prior award winners and a marching band drum line in the third movement. Troy High School Director of Bands Brian Nutting introduced Tyler at the beginning of the concert by saying, “Never in my twenty-six years of teaching have I come across a student musician with such unlimited talent and potential in the area of composition. Tyler has penned a work that is profound, inspiring, magnificent – even glorious – in its musical portrayal of Jacob’s life. It is a work that will change the listener and carry forward the torch of Jacob’s legacy. I am honored to conduct the world premiere of the piece with the Troy Symphonic Band and Tyler Bouque at the piano. ”
I had the opportunity to speak with Tyler last week and asked several questions.
- What is the most powerful moment for you in Love Speaks?
“Listening to my fellow musicians and speaking with patrons, it’s the piano solo in the last movement. It has a very special place in my heart because I spent so much time on it. I thought about including Jacob’s Ladder as part of the symphony early on, and it soon found a place in the fifth movement, which symbolizes Jacob’s ascension into heaven after his death.
“Much of the fifth movement is a piano improvisation, which I love to do. I just sit down at the piano, start playing and refine the notes into a melody. Since music is my primary connection with God, it was natural for me to use Jacob’s Ladder because I learned the song as a very young child in church, it talks about climbing a ladder and it uses Jacob’s name! Shortly before the premier I sat down and wrote four introductory bars of music and then said to the band, ‘When you hear these four bars, this is your cue to come in.’”
- How does Jake’s voice speak through Love Speaks, and how does your voice speak through the symphony?
“When Jake was in the hospital and too sick to visit with his friends, he would later text them and apologize. I wanted to convey through my music the sweetness of Jake’s all too short life. Before he died, Jake wanted his friends and family to remember three things. First, he wanted them to remember him when he was a happy and healthy teenager and not when he was sick. Second, he wanted to forgive anyone who ever felt that they had been cruel to him. And he hoped that others would forgive him if he had ever hurt them. Most of all, Jake wanted everyone to love each other.
“I could have chosen to compose atonally or tonally. That is, I could have written music that was all over the place and difficult to understand or music that conveyed the simplicity of Jake’s story and elicited a heartfelt response because of the love Jake had for others. I chose to tell the story.”
- What do you hope the audience takes home with them after hearing the symphony?
“The message in Jake’s life and my music is a reminder that sometimes people leave us. And it’s not what we want. Yet we can choose to carry their memory with us. The lesson is that love is unending and does not stop when a person dies. The people who most affect our lives are not always the ones we spend most of our time with.”
- How has composing Love Speaks changed you?
“I can see a progression in my music from last summer to now. The fifth movement is very different from the first movement because I wrote it over a much longer time period. As I grow, I am gaining more of an understanding of both life and music. I now have a large piece of music under my belt, which I would not have had if Jake had not died and I had not received the scholarship from the Love family. I’ve also learned more about what it means to lose someone you love.
“I still sing a lot, practice piano and play saxophone in our symphonic band, but composition is my favorite part of music. Last year, at a classical voice competition, I had the opportunity to hear from professors what college and a future career in vocal performance would be like. I reflected that I am not the type of person who can spend two hours in a practice room each day singing and perfecting phrases in a song. With singing, a certain style is expected, but I love composition because it is organic and ever-changing. With composition, you can be whoever you want to be and write about whatever you want. So long as you love what you do you have succeeded. That is what composing does for me.”
Just as Jacob’s love spoke volumes through Love Speaks, so Tyler’s love and faith speaks through his symphony. Tyler not only has uncommon skill and great potential, but he also has heart. More than that, Tyler has a church family that speaks love and continues to support and motivate not only Tyler but all young people to discover their passion, reach for the stars by climbing Jacob’s ladder and let their love speak.
Does love still speak in our world? Yes, it does! How does your love speak? Listen to Love Speaks here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTirl2_QgmE