Dordt professor serves as both conductor and composer
Faculty at colleges and universities are always looking to hone their craft, stay current with the latest research, and relevantly contribute to their professional field. For Dr. Onsby Rose, associate professor of music and director of instrumental ensembles at Dordt University, this comes in the form of writing commissioned compositions for various music groups across the country.
Last year, Rose completed a piece that the Dordt University Wind Symphony performed on their latest CD, which he had the privilege of conducting for the project as principal conductor of the ensemble. The Wind Symphony is Dordt’s premiere wind ensemble and features musicians from a variety of majors on campus.
This past summer, Rose was commissioned by a community band in Indiana to write “Rio’s Rainbow,” a piece written in memory of a girl who had taken her life after being bullied in school. He was invited to conduct the piece at its premiere performance, and now the piece is available for ensembles across the country to purchase, with 50 percent of the proceeds supporting the Rio’s Rainbow Foundation in their fight to end bullying.
“Normally someone is either a conductor or composer; I’m blessed that I get to do both,” says Rose. “Having spent almost 35 years playing in and conducting bands and orchestras, I have a clear idea of the pallet of instrumental colors that are at my disposal as a composer. Although there are many composers who do not lead ensembles, I believe God has given me the opportunity to use each one to enhance the other.”
When it comes to composing, Rose shares that it is not a quick process. He estimates that for every minute of music that is played, approximately 30 to 50 hours have been spent writing that minute. While his primary genre is wind band, he has written a few orchestral works and has even completed an approximately 22.5-minute symphony.
“You make sure every note is just right. In a wind band, you have as many as 35 separate instrumental lines occurring at once. You must ensure that every note and marking gives the musicians the information they need to bring your soundless, black-and-white ink into the world in a way that conveys all the emotion that is intended.”
His latest piece, called “The Seventh Seal,” was commissioned by the nationally renowned high school band, the William Mason High School Wind Symphony of Ohio, who played the piece at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago. Rose sought to mature his compositional voice with this piece which includes intricate percussion parts.
“Each time I write a new work I go first to God. In my prayers to him, I simply ask that he lead me to write whatever sounds he has in store for the ears of those who will hear. I am the lucky guy who gets to put my name on the music, but the notes come from, and belong to God.”
Rose has been a vibrant addition to the Dordt University Music Department since he joined in 2019, assisting with the launch of the Dordt Music Patrons and the Defender Band, an athletic pep band that performs at basketball and football games. He also assists with other smaller composition projects on campus, such as short Christmas carol arrangements for university videos as well as teaching applied one on one composition lessons to students that have the desire to learn to compose.
“My service at Dordt, as well as my compositional work, is a blessing from God. Each day I have the opportunity to impact students’ lives to help enable their professional pursuits, while also being a conduit to bring new music from God to his kingdom.”
As an institution of higher education committed to the Reformed Christian perspective, Dordt University equips students, faculty, alumni, and the broader community to work toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life. Located in Sioux Center, Iowa, Dordt is a comprehensive university named to the best college lists by the Wall Street Journal, Times Higher Education, U.S. News & World Report, Forbes.com, Washington Monthly, and Princeton Review.