Music composition major Sam Ek ’17 is feeling pretty fortunate these days.

He was chosen for the first-time honor of composing original music inspired by an artwork at Chapman University’s Hilbert Museum of Art. Then as he perused the museum collection of California Scene Paintings, looking for the one artwork that would be his inspiration, he struck gold.

The citycape “Morning Rain” by California artist Jack Wilcox reminded Ek of favorite places and people – his bay area home and late grandfather, a San Francisco jazz musician and founder of Sunset Music. Ek was captivated by the artist’s gentle play of light and dark and the misty images of pedestrians treading in the rain.


Morning Rain by California artist Jack Wilcox inspired Chapman University composition major Sam Ek ’17.

“It brought me back to home,” he says. “Being a Bay Area native, I gravitated toward it. I kind of thought one of the silhouettes walking in the background could be my grandfather.”

Ek echoes those elements in the resulting composition, “Morning Rain for Flute, Cello and Viola.” It’s a slightly jazzy piece of music he tried to “make in a style that my grandfather would have heard at the time he was there. He was a jazz pianist.”

But it was more than just an academic exercise. The new music premiered at the first concert to be hosted by the Hilbert Museum of California Art in a performance by Orange County Pacific Symphony musicians. The April concert was one of the key campus events of the 2017 INTERPLAY Festival of music, culture and ideas, a collaboration between Chapman and Pacific Symphony. And Ek’s creation also fit well with INTERPLAY’s 2017 theme — Golden Dreams, a celebration of the state’s role as a cultural crossroads.

three people

Mark and Janet Hilbert join Chapman student Sam Ek ’17 at a special concert where his composition was featured during the first live music performance at Hilbert Museum of California Art.

Such an opportunity for a student composer is rare, says Sean Heim, Ph.D., professor and director of music theory and composition in the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music.

“Chapman students regularly have their works read by professional ensembles, but actual performances are less frequent, and so Sam’s having his work performed by players from the Pacific Symphony was something quite special. It was also an enriching experience for Sam to incorporate inspiration from the Hilbert Museum’s collection into his work,” Heim says.

The piece was commissioned by museum benefactors Mark and Janet Hilbert. Mark Hilbert says he looks forward to commissioning more artistic works, possibly including poetry or creative writing, to pair with museum artworks.

Special INTERPLAY exhibitions at Hilbert Museum, including Golden Dreams: The immigrant Vision of California, remain on display. Learn more at the museum’s website.