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Collaborations inspire music graduate to compose music for stage, film, dance ensembles

Alicia Castillo, photo courtesy of Neil Schwartz

April 23, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Alicia Castillo is a composer, guitarist and singer-songwriter. Her compositions range from concert music to guitar works and her collaborations encompass various interdisciplinary mediums.

In May, Castillo will graduate with a Bachelor of Music in composition.

From a young age, Castillo knew she wanted to be involved in music but was unsure what field to pursue. After taking a few music courses, including composition lessons, at Phoenix College, she delved deeper into composing and participated in her first collaboration with a poet and vocalist to create her first art song, “The Meadowlark.”

“When I heard the first performance of the piece I composed, I knew that composition was what I wanted to pursue," she said. "The moment of hearing my own music being performed and the joy and wonder I felt is one that continuously inspires me and something I still feel every time I collaborate with other performers and artists to premiere a new work.”

“After transferring to ASU, Alicia enthusiastically dove into all the opportunities that the School of Music, Dance and Theatre had to offer,” said Jody Rockmaker, associate professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “She has written music for the stage, film, dance and various ensembles. It has been a joy to see her rapid growth as a musician as she extends her technique and develops her own unique voice. We are excited that Alicia will continue her studies in the master’s program.”

“I have had so many great collaborations during my time at ASU, but my proudest accomplishment was when I composed the music for 'The Snow,' a 2020 ASU theater production that was later nominated for the 2020 ariZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence for Original Score,” Castillo said.

Castillo said the collaboration taught her how to work with a director as well as work within a large design team to bring the story to life. Sitting in on the first cast reading, attending various rehearsals, finalizing the music during tech week and teaching the actors songs to perform all opened her eyes to potential career pathways available to her as a composer, as well as the collaboration opportunities available at ASU.

In 2020, she composed a new work, "RISE,” through a virtual collaboration with the ASU Philharmonia and ASU dance studio. Outside of the concert world, she is currently in the process of producing and recording her debut singer-songwriter album "ODDS and ENDS."

Castillo studied guitar with Jeff Libman, Dan Davis and Ji Yeon Kim (who goes by Jiji) and composition with Karl Schindler, Rockmaker and Christopher Norby. She received scholarships from John G. Sperling, a Special Talent Award and the Richard and Babette Burns Classical Guitar Scholarship.

“I am grateful beyond words to have received this funding as it helped me to put my education first,” Castillo said. “Because of this funding, I am also able to continue the next journey in my education and pursue graduate student at ASU in the fall.”

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: After transferring to ASU, I was most surprised at how large and diverse the student body was. I quickly learned that being surrounded by so many students with different experiences and backgrounds was so enriching for me. Though intimidating at first, I found that it was easy to meet students who shared similar interests and who were eager to work on projects together.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I decided to attend ASU after visiting campus for the music audition experience and attending a few staff and student recitals. Meeting and talking to a few of the talented music students about their experiences made me aware of the wonderful community and great opportunities at ASU. I knew that it was the perfect place for me to grow as a student and have a lot of support throughout the journey.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I learned so much taking private composition lessons with Professor Dr. Rockmaker, but what stuck with me the most was when he encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone as a composer – to continuously seek new experiences and to be unafraid to try new things. This has helped me grow tremendously as both a student and an adult and to make the most out of my time at ASU.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Take advantage of the opportunities while in school and seek out collaborations with other students. You truly get out of your education what you put into it. For me, collaborating with other students in the same field and in other departments enriched my educational experience in so many ways – to build relationships, learn from others – and you never know what future opportunities it may lead to.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite place on campus has definitely been Organ Hall in the music building, where the guitar studio meets. It is a beautiful hall to perform and hear concerts in, and it is also where I have met some of my closest friends and colleagues who share the same passion for music that I do. It is a space where I have learned to improve my own performance skills while surrounded by a supportive community.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be continuing my studies at ASU pursuing dual master’s degrees in composition and guitar performance pedagogy. I am so excited to further my relationships with my wonderful professors and colleagues, as well as continue to seek new opportunities and collaborations at ASU.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would focus specifically on global access to quality education. It is so important that every child is given the chance to grow and succeed, regardless of their background, as well as have access to the support, resources and development that education provides. Children are the future and if given the opportunity and access to quality education, who knows who they can become or future challenges they can conquer. As a future educator, I am excited to work with students and have an impact on them, as my own education has impacted me.

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