The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s headquarters are just down the street from Booker T. Washington High School. That makes it easy for DSO musicians to mentor students. But earlier this year, one DSO member walked in a mentor and walked out a collaborator.
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David Cooper knows what works in a piece of music. He’s the DSO’s principle French horn player. But at Booker T. Washington, he was caught off guard when he heard a duet for piano and saxophone that worked. Like, really worked.
“And all I could think of was I wanna play this piece on horn. And I didn’t know anything about the composer and I didn’t know anything about the piece,” Cooper says. “And I looked over and it was this kid – this 16 year old. And I was like, Oh my gosh – this is a real piece of music, and this is just a young guy!”
That young guy was Chase Dobson, a junior at the school. If Chase was capable of that, Cooper wanted Chase to write music for him.
“Without even really working at it, he actually approached me,” Chase says. “It was kind of amazing.”
Chase started playing piano at 6 and wrote his first piece of music at 11. He’s scored short films for Booker T. classmates. But this was bigger.
So Chase followed up with Cooper and kicked around ideas. But then a light bulb went off in Cooper’s head.
“And then I started thinking, ‘Hey, you know, I have this ballet company. And we’re doing live music with dance. And what’s more exciting than new choreography and new music?’”
Cooper is the music director of Avant Chamber Ballet. Most groups use recorded music to save money. But Avant is dedicated to performing to live music.
By March, Chase already had a sketch of his composition for horn, violin and piano.
“I remember when I got the rough draft of this recording, it was in the fourth track,” Cooper says. “It was like stuck in my brain because I just repeated it so much. I was like, ‘Chase, 2 min. 26 seconds into the fourth track. We gotta use that right there!’”
As Chase expanded the piece, Avant artistic director Katie Puder was already working on the choreography.
“Normally I’m using a piece of music either I’m really familiar with or has been around a really long time,” she says. “So it’s exciting to know a composer, let alone know that he’s composed this for you and your choreography and your specific company.”
That collaboration will be on display Saturday. That’s when Avant debuts choreography set to Chase’s music as part of its New Works program. (The program continues Sunday.) Chase’s composition is called Faces of the Sun. It’s nine movements are each a few minutes long.
When Cooper plays the pieces’ opening notes on his horn, it’ll be a big moment for everyone.
“I remember like, hearing it in the car and getting a huge lump in my throat,” he says. “Just thinking this is a new piece of music. This is a new piece of art. This is a piece for me, but it’s also a piece for future generations. And this means my art form is going to keep going. It means what I do is still relevant.”
During rehearsals, Chase has played the piano part. But for this weekend’s performances, another pianist will take over those duties. And that will allow Chase to finally just sit back, watch and listen.
Just thinking about it leaves him speechless.
“I don’t know how to say that. Those words don’t exist,” he says while contemplating the scene. “I actually don’t know how I’m going to react, because it’s never happened before.”
Chase graduates next year. He wants to attend a major conservatory like the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Being able to say he’s already the composer in residence for a professional ballet company ought to look good on his application.