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Composition Alumni

Daniel Vendt ’05

Daniel Vendt ’05 is an award-winning composer for film and television.  His music can be heard in indie films, cable television, and web series.

A pioneer in the composition program at IWU, he was the first student to feature original film music at a composition recital, also writing and producing his own films to build his portfolio.  Graduating cum laude, Daniel was the first student accepted to the Music Composition for the Screen MFA at Columbia College Chicago, where he received the prestigious Follett Fellowship.  There he was selected as a graduate student speaker upon completion of the degree program.

Currently residing in Los Angeles, Daniel is writing music for several new series on the National Geographic Channel.  He has worked as assistant-composer to the Emmy and Grammy nominated composer Peter Himmelman, and also has experience working as a media manager, field producer, post production coordinator, and assistant editor for both network and cable shows.  He considers his experience at Illinois Wesleyan to have been crucial in preparing him for the highly-competitive music and entertainment industries.

Daniel is a member of BMI, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, and (never one to forget his roots) the Illinois & Indiana Antique Tractor & Gas Engine Club.


Ben Hjertmann ‘07

Ben Hjertmann ‘07 is a Chicago-based composer and vocalist.  He composes and performs with the avant-folk trio the Grant Wallace Band and surrealist-pop band Kong Must Dead.

Ben has collaborated with numerous chamber groups, including the Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Spektral Quartet, Borromeo Quartet, Anubis Quartet, Callithumpian Consort, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and many others.  His large-ensemble music has been performed at UT-Austin, Louisiana State, Michigan State, Northwestern, U-Nebraska at Lincoln, and NYU, among other schools.  Ben’s piece Catclaw Mimosa was the 2013 winner of the Frank Ticheli International Composition Contest.  In 2013, Ben formed a consortium of 34 wind ensembles and individuals in which the students of participating ensembles work closely with the composer throughout the process of creating a new work.

Ben’s music has been featured at Fast Forward Austin, the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinics, the conference of the College Band Directors National Association, and the South by Southwest NonClassical showcase.   He has been a resident artist at the MacDowell Colony, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and the Shell Lake Arts Center.  He was a 2013 fellow at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Institute, and a 2011 fellow at the Other Minds Festival.

Ben’s work appears on the Spektral Quartet’s debut album “Chambers”, released by Parlour Tapes+, and pianist Nick Phillips’  “American Vernacular” album released on New Focus Records.  In 2013 he released a self-produced album of chamber metal called Angelswort.

Ben received his Doctor of Music in Composition degree from Northwestern University in 2013.  His dissertation research focused on microtonal harmonic structures derived from sum & difference tones.  Ben teaches composition, music technology, theory, and song writing at Northwestern University and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras.

"The faculty at Illinois Wesleyan nurtured my creativity and musicianship, encouraging me to explore the world of music guided by my inner compass.  Their support created a firm foundation upon which to build my aesthetic and career as a composer."


Dr. Matthew D. Harder ’96

Dr. Matthew D. Harder ’96 is Professor of Music and Director of Music Technology at West Liberty University. He served as Program Director from 2009-2010 and interim Department Chair from 2010-2013. Matt teaches Introduction to Music Technology, Electronic Music, Composition, Recording Techniques, Music Technology Practicum, and Special Topics courses. He has also taught Fundamentals of Percussion, Private Lessons, Percussion Ensemble, and The Panhandle Steel Ensemble. Matt holds two Masters degrees from Bowling Green State University in Percussion and Composition, and a Doctor of Music degree in Composition from Northwestern University. Additionally, he studied drumming with the Ewe people of Ghana in the summer of 1998.  Matt is active as a composer of acoustic, electroacoustic, and live electronic works. His pieces have been performed in numerous cities around the country and have received several awards. Matt greatly enjoys the convergence of music and technology in the pedagogical and creative arenas.

“My time as an undergraduate at Illinois Wesleyan represents my true formative years as a creative musician.  The halls of the music building are where I took my first real steps by exploring the aesthetics, the mechanics, the techniques, and the forces of musical creation that would be the foundation for my ongoing career as an educator, a composer, and a performer.  IWU allowed me the freedom to explore, while teaching me the discipline necessary to realize my ideas - musical and otherwise.”


Brian Baxter ’07

Brian Baxter ’07 is a Chicago-based composer whose music is vigorous, direct, and heavily influenced by personal experiences of places and environments. He writes primarily chamber, orchestral, and vocal music.

Having co-founded the Chicago Composers Orchestra, a group dedicated to the performance and advocacy of orchestral music by living composers, Brian serves as its Artistic Director and Board of Directors President, overseeing all aspects of the organization. Brian’s passion for new music is equaled by his passion for music education, which is put to work in his position as Director of Operations with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras, where he oversees 450+ student musicians in a variety of orchestras and chamber music groups that perform across the Chicago area and around the world. Here he founded a Composition Seminar that supports pre-collegiate student composers.

Brian’s music has been recorded by the Palomar Ensemble on its Ten x Ten collaborative arts vinyl release and by Gaudete Brass Quintet on their debut release with Cedille  Records, Chicago Moves. His chamber and vocal music have been performed by the Anaphora Ensemble, Forecast Music, Gaudete Brass Quintet, neoPhonia New Music Ensemble, Palomar Ensemble,  Singers On New Ground and many others. His large ensemble works have received performances from the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestras, Chicago College of Performing Arts Wind Ensemble, Chicago Composers Orchestra, and Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras. In a collaboration with Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), Brian co-wrote orchestral arrangements of My Brightest Diamond’s music for a concert featuring Shara with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra at Millennium

Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago. At South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, Brian’s music and performance was featured in 2011 as part of Gabriel Prokofiev’s NonClassical Showcase at the Velveeta Room.

Brian holds an M.M in music composition from Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts (M.M.) He has received yearly ASCAPlus Awards since 2009.

 “The School of Music at IWU provided a solid foundation on which I have able to build and grow my professional career in music.  Dr. Vayo, who to this day is one of my most influential teachers, opened the world of sonic possibilities in composition to me.  I began listening voraciously to everything I could get to my ears, and this, combined with the way Dr. Vayo constantly challenged my musical conceptions and ideas, significantly supported the development of my compositional voice.” 


Colin Borck

Though Colin Borck’s flair is for composing challenging solo literature for professional performers, his musical output is diverse both in style and size.  He often takes a minimalist approach to his compositions, but always keeps a focus on the listener’s engagement in the work.

Colin attended Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, where he received Bachelor's Degrees in music composition as well as music education - the only person in the over 150 year history of the school to successfully accomplish those two degree choices. While at Wesleyan, Colin studied composition with David Vayo, Mario Pelusi, and Serra Hwang, as well as received feedback from noted composers William Bolcom and Louis Andriessen.

Prior to his studies at Illinois Wesleyan, Colin was involved with the Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps, based out of Rockford, Illinois. He was a member from 1997-2000 where he marched baritone bugle and wrote the corps warm-up - the first time one of his works was ever performed.

Colin has worked with and received feedback from numerous international performers such as Monica Germino (violin), Cristina Zavalloni (voice), Marilyn Nonken (piano), and Peter Bond (trumpet). Mr. Bond is performing Mr. Borck's "triquetra"; on his concerts and masterclass tours.

Recent compositions include ‘triquetra’, an unaccompanied solo written for and premiered by Peter Bond, trumpet with the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, ‘Nyad’s Dream’, a work commissioned for the Kithara Trio of Chicago by Martha A. Hesse, as well as ‘Train’, a work for solo piano premiered in Naples, FL by Jodie DeSalvo.

Colin currently resides in Chicago, and works for the Chicago Zoologial Society which manages Brookfield Zoo.


Peter Gilbert ’98

The music of Peter Gilbert ’98 combines traditional instrumental writing with elements of improvisation, live-performed electronics, and other media.  His music, whether presented in multi-media theater, film, installation or a traditional concert, thrives on the act and art of collaboration.  He has held artist residencies in Europe and the US at festivals and institutions like the ZKM Institut für Akustik und Musik and the Akademie Schloss Solitude (Germany).  Accolades and commissions have come from the Barlow Foundation, the Russolo Foundation, the Look & Listen Festival, the Third Practice Festival, the Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges, and the Washington International Composers Competition.  Peter holds degrees from Illinois Wesleyan University, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Harvard University.  He has taught composition, electronic music, music theory and music history at Harvard University, Wellesley College, Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Case Western Reserve University, and the Cleveland Institute of Music.  He currently teaches at the University of New Mexico as Assistant Professor of Composition. 

“The tight-knit, supportive environment at IWU's School of Music really encouraged me to cultivate my passions and develop my different strengths, helping me become the kind of well-rounded musician I wanted to be.  This has turned out to be critically valuable throughout many years of classroom and studio teaching at university and college music departments, which today often need real breadth from their teachers.

Most important to me as a young musician was having mentoring teachers who were completely invested in me both as an artist and as a human being.  David Vayo was for me (like many of my IWU teachers) the kind of professor you always hoped for:  listening, pushing you into the unknown, drawing you out with questions, and always with a heart and mind open to whatever path you felt was yours.  Of all the composers I know, David is one of the most uniquely suited to teach and guide curious young composers of any stripe.”