Conservatory of Music student Alex Eisenhauer takes his compositions to Cuba and Japan.

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The Universal Language

March 10, 2014

Conservatory student Alex Eisenhauer is traveling the world with his music.

"Paintings of Dracula" by Alex Eisenhauer

Eisenhauer standing next to a grand piano

"Paintings of Dracula" was one of the compositions presented at the Havana event. Written for two violins, viola, cello, clarinet, bassoon, french horn, and trumpet, this piece was only rehearsed once, and this rough audio file was recorded on a phone. According to Eisenhauer, the audience loved how it broke into howling at the end.

Download (mp3)

On November 28, 2013, when his fellow citizens were celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States, Alexander Eisenhauer, a sophomore at the Conservatory of Music, was in Havana, Cuba, recruiting local musicians to rehearse and play six of his compositions, including "Inhibitions," at the Eighth International Linguistics Conference.

A transfer student from Baruch College, Eisenhauer had been invited to present his chamber music at the Havana event thanks to the auspices of Professor Wayne Finke, the deputy chair of Baruch College's Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, where he teaches Spanish.

"I met Alex as a freshman in my advanced Spanish class for business, and I could see that he was very talented with both languages and music," says Finke, who mentored the young composer until he transferred to Brooklyn College in fall 2013.

Eisenhauer, who hails from Buffalo, New York, started his classical clarinet training when he was nine, but it was not until his freshman year in high school that he decided to take music more seriously. Inspiration was not hard to find: His native city's philharmonic ranks eighth in the nation and Buffalo is the birthplace of the award-winning jazz-rock fusion band, Spyro Gyra. Eisenhauer formed a rock band and picked up the electric guitar.

"I got into researching musicians in both the classical and rock world," he says, adding that he was influenced by guitarist and songwriter Steve Vai, the transcriptionist for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band leader Frank Zappa, and Yngwie Malmsteen, a famous Swedish guitarist with a knack for blending genres.

He realized early on that he loved the technical aspect of music, and since he was good at math, he quickly excelled in music theory. He dedicated long hours to playing compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach on his guitar, and experimented by blending musical styles. Music also allowed him to express himself during his tumultuous teens.

"I realized I could write different feelings and emotions into my music," he says. "This exercise changed my life and brought me more deeply into music."

Eisenhauer landed a job at the Buffalo Philharmonic, where he did a number of odd jobs, including posting and maintaining its website, writing informational material for visitors, and helping out concert attendants as an usher.

"Developing my writing skills also helped me when I applied to Baruch College in fall 2012."

That's where he and Finke met. Impressed by his devotion to music and his zeal to learn languages, Finke encouraged him to apply for a fellowship that would help him travel to Europe in the summer of 2013. Once there, Eisenhauer and 14 other students spent time at Salamanca University, the oldest in Spain, and in Madrid, where he was able to see the Berliner Philharmonic, perhaps one of the most famous in the world, playing Beethoven's Choral Symphony, also known as the Ninth.

"I helped him because he is driven and studious," Finke adds.

Before Eisenhauer transferred to Brooklyn College, Finke encouraged him to submit his compositions to the Havana conference since congress organizers were seeking cultural activities to offer attendants and academics at the Havana event. Finke was also able to obtain a college grant to make the trip possible. While cultural and educational travel to Cuba is exempt from the ongoing U.S. trade embargo, there are no direct flights available to the island nation, so Eisenhauer had to fly out of Cancún, Mexico.

Eisenhauer continues studying piano under Adjunct Associate Professor Jeffrey Biegel and composition under Lecturer/Doctoral Scholar Douglas Cohen, and is looking forward to study with renowned composer and Distinguished Professor Tania León. Thanks to Finke's mentorship, he has been invited to return to Cuba and to present his newest compositions during the 2015 spring break, this time at Daito Bunka University in Tokyo.

"I have been writing new material that is turning out well," he says, excited by the invitations. "But they will be for smaller combos of five to six performers, however."

A very promising future for a 20-year-old composer who is training to do more of what he loves for the rest of his life.

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