The Composer

by Suzanne Buzek

Kaleel Sheirik

Kaleel Skeirik doesn't have all the answers. But he doesn't shy away from asking the tough questions?and he often uses music as the vehicle for challenging both himself and his students.

"I see the world musically," says the professor of music theory and composition, "and I'm concerned with what people's values tell them. What is the nature of humans? What is the nature of violence, of discrimination, of racism? Who fits into society and who doesn't? What is the reason behind war? Who's right and who's wrong? I don't have the answers, but I say, 'These issues are important.'"

In that sense, Skeirik sees music as a mirror reflecting the world?a mirror into which others can look to find their own answers. "The mirror might be distorted," he says. "It is imperfect information because it's through my lenses and my eyes, but I am an artist, and that that's what an artist does: They hold up the mirror and ask questions."

This semester, Skeirik is holding up the mirror to Xavier students and asking those tough questions in a new course: Music, War and Peace. "In this course, I will teach what I know and feature musical pieces from all over the world to analyze," he says. "I'm going to ask all of the hard questions about our culture and our world, and I want the students to develop their own ideas."

Skeirik has been a concert pianist for 30 years. And as a composer, he knows enough about his own voice to simply stick to it. He is not about to sell out.

"You have to make a decision as to whether you want to write to meet an audience that's already there, falling into a style that has already been set and communicated, or you can write from the voice that's in you, and from that, you're not sure what or who your audience could be," he explains. "I'm probably the latter of the two. I write what comes to me, and for that reason, sometimes what might come out is idiosyncratic as opposed to fitting into a format."

As an example, Skeirik points to the creation of "Forever Freedom," a work he wrote in 2001-2002 for the Blue Ash Youth Symphony Orchestra's 10th anniversary celebration. Following the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, Skeirik was drained of any inspiration for a happy or celebratory piece.

"A tune finally came to me for the orchestra, but it was melancholy, it was sad," he recalls. "They wanted pomp and circumstance and revolutionary marches. So in the music I have these huge chords that are set up and they tumble and fall apart, and there is this mournful song that follows, and then a reconstruction, optimism. What I was feeling by the end was optimism: The worst can happen, and you should take time to cry, and then you should struggle and feel your way back to believing in going forward. And that was what I had to work through."

Music has been central to all facets of Skeirik's life since childhood, and he finds within it a never-ending, revitalizing freshness that he works to share with others, particularly his students.

"I think music is something we've been given as humans, and each person should find some of it somewhere," he says. "I'm crazy about music. And I guess everything I do, work-wise, is really inspired by music. I've been blessed because I've done a lot of things with my family with music, I've been able to do things with my students, my community. I've been able to do things regionally. It's just very exciting to share your ideas with other people and see how it goes."