Student composer wins Creative Artist Award with North Carolina-inspired piece

Studies have shown that music helps strengthen memory skills in children and adults. According to the Children’s Music Workshop, linking familiar songs to new information can help imprint that information on the brain. That’s how songs from the cartoon series Animaniacs helped a generation of kids memorize their states and capitals, countries of the world and US presidents. For Noah Baldwin, inventing melodies to memorize patterns in games was both a useful memory tool and the origin of his passion for composing music.

“My mom told me I was always coming up with different melodies in the car. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was always singing and always coming up with different ideas,” said Baldwin. “After I joined band in sixth grade, I figured out maybe I could hone that loose skill and make it something more concrete and presentable.”

Baldwin, a junior majoring in design studies, played the trombone in band for eight years. He composed his first original piece of music for an ensemble while in high school – an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” that his school’s wind ensemble performed.  

“When I first joined band, there was something about classical music – the idea that you don’t need words to feel something – that really drew me to the classical sphere. I really love the way classical music sounds,” said Baldwin. “I love the harmonies, the complexities, the depth, the different instruments. I just love writing for different instruments and the different moods they can evoke – from the flute, maybe something more lively, to a trombone that can be very powerful. I love mixing those two together to create something that can be harmonious. It’s really interesting to me.”

Baldwin started working on a new composition for wind ensemble during his freshman year at State, and hadn’t yet finished it when he received a notice about the Creative Artist Awards submissions. “I was still in the process of writing my piece, and I was planning on working on it for another few months. But the deadline was Friday, so I threw it together and turned it in. I wasn’t thinking I was going to win or anything.”

But he did. On Oct. 25, Baldwin received the 2018 Creative Artist Award for Music for his original composition, “Carolina.” As part of the honor, the NC State Wind Ensemble will perform the piece in its spring concert. “It’s really surreal. I had the intention of a bigger ensemble playing my piece, but I never thought that would happen,” Baldwin said. “It’s a really good opportunity, I’m really excited. With a live band playing it, in comparison to a computer rendering, it’s a whole different experience. It’s more emotional. It’s more deep and more rich.”

The piece is inspired by nature and North Carolina’s natural environment, particularly the Blue Ridge mountains, which Baldwin sees often when visiting friends at Appalachian State University. “I really wanted to write a song that expressed my appreciation for North Carolina’s beautiful scenery and nature,” he said. “The piece is really centered on an original folk song that I wrote. I really love folk music and I wanted to put the folk song in a more contemporary setting with lush harmonies, and modernize the folk song in a sense. Bring in the old and the new and bring them together.”

While his career sights are set on design and photography, Baldwin plans to continue writing music and, if he keeps up his current pace, he’ll be quite a prolific composer. “I don’t really finish one piece and go on to the next. I tend to write a bunch of different pieces at one time, so right now I’m in the middle of writing 12,” said Baldwin. “They all are unfinished, but I tend to, when I have time, go back and start writing. If I get an idea, I’ll start another one.”

The NC State Wind Ensemble will perform “Carolina” in its concert on April 23.