Sammamish native Patrick Harlin’s stock soaring in the world of music composition

September 25, 2013

By Neil Pierson

There have been several milestone moments in Patrick Harlin’s evolution as a composer, but maybe the biggest sign of his success will happen halfway across the country this weekend.

Patrick Harlin

Patrick Harlin

On Sept. 27 and 28, the St. Louis Symphony will be performing “Rapture,” an 8-minute piece Harlin created for his master’s degree thesis at the University of Michigan.

Harlin, who grew up in Sammamish and graduated from Eastlake High School in 2003, has been composing music since age 7, shortly before he began taking piano lessons. He said it’s rare for a major symphony to perform a student composer’s work.

“It was quite the surprise to me,” Harlin said.

The 29-year-old has had his fair share of accolades since coming to Michigan from Western Washington University, where he earned his Bachelor of Music degree.

Many of the honors have come within the past year, including a scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an eight-week fellowship with the Aspen Music Festival, and a resident composer’s spot at the University of Missouri’s International Composers Festival.

The Hermitage Prize – co-sponsored by the Aspen Music Festival and the Hermitage Artist Retreat – was unusual because it was the inaugural award.

“This prize is important for several reasons,” Bruce E. Rodgers, executive director of the Hermitage, told the Aspen Business Journal last month. “First, it gives an up-and-coming American composer the gift of time and space to work on their art apart from the everyday world and its constant interruptions and distractions.

“Secondly, it allows the student to meet and interact with mid-career artists who have already found success in their artistic endeavors. Thirdly, it is an affirmation that their work is already being recognized by some of the most important professionals in music today.”

Harlin’s musical tastes are eclectic. One of his favorite artists is Aphex Twin, a well-known name in the electronic genre. Harlin has spent time writing acoustic versions of electronic music.

“I would say I’m as influenced by pop and jazz music as I am by classical,” he explained.

Harlin also believes he’s been “lucky with mentors through the years,” learning under the wing of Michael Daugherty and Evan Chambers at Michigan, and with Roger Briggs at Western Washington. His first composition instructor, Alexei Girsh, helped him write an orchestral piece in sixth grade.

Harlin’s inspiration for “Rapture” sprouted from listening to a radio story about “ultra cavers” who spend weeks underground in dark and deafening environments – what Harlin termed “a panic attack on methamphetamine.”

“Conceptually, it was very interesting to take on,” he said. “It wasn’t the religious connotation of rapture. … I took it to be an overwhelming sense of emotion.”

Harlin is working toward his Doctor of Musical Arts degree — he’s unsure whether he’ll finish in 2014 or 2015 – and he hopes to continue writing orchestral music after that. He also wants to integrate his studies in ecology, which have allowed him to travel and “think about issues that are relevant today outside of the field of music.”

In the meantime, he’s got a busy schedule over the next few months. His dissertation work involves sustainability and “how the sound of an environment relates to the health of an environment.”

Over the winter, he plans to travel to the Amazon rainforest in South America, where he’ll be recording sounds that’ll likely be part of a future composition.

Before that, he’s heading to a remote part of Utah called the Book Cliffs.

“It’s one of the last wild areas in the country,” Harlin said. “There’s a bunch of oil out there, and it’s a region that’ll be transforming in the near future.”


Listen live

The St. Louis Symphony will be performing ‘Rapture,’ a piece composed by Eastlake High School graduate Patrick Harlin, on Sept. 27 and 28. The symphony’s Sept. 28 performance can be heard live at 6 p.m. Pacific time through St. Louis Public Radio’s website,

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