Graysen Castell takes inspiration from all around.
While other students may be too busy to notice anything happening around them, saxophonist and composer Castell uses each passing moment, person and experience as inspiration for his music.
“I’ll be going along my typical day and I’ll have just one random idea pop in my head,” Castell said. “And then I’ll try as fast as I can to get it down on paper and try to formulate an entire song based on that one idea.”
Castell was exposed to music at a very early age; he was four when his grandmother Donna Wangsgard, a published composer, started teaching him piano and music theory.
Later his older sister Nattalia started playing the saxophone and listening to saxophone giants such as John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.
Hearing these musicians on a regular basis, Castell fell in love with the sound of the saxophone.
In his high school music theory courses, Castell found himself wanting to rewrite the assignments. After learning about harmonies, Castell started arranging pieces for his high school saxophone quartet.
“Music is a world of endless possibilities, but there are certain rules,” said Castell.
In his two years at Weber State University, Castell has composed and premiered one original piece and arranged four other songs.
Castell’s first original piece, “Writers Block Blues,” came from one of his improvised solos during a competition with his high school band in San Diego. The WSU Jazz Ensemble premiered “Writers Block Blues” in spring 2015.
“It’s great to play his work because Graysen is here, right now,” said Spencer Howe, a music education major and bassist for the WSU Jazz Ensemble. “We have the composer of the piece on stage with us instead of playing music written by people we’ve never met.”
Castell enjoyed hearing his work come to life on stage, but noticed some changes he wanted to make.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing with the rhythm section and the brass, because I’m not experienced with them,” Castell said.
Last fall, the Jazz Ensemble premiered Castell’s arrangement of “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
“I learned how to change things up so it’s more interesting,” Castell said. “The brass can play really high and the rhythm section can be much more melodic than just keeping time.”
Castell performed both of his pieces on stage with the Jazz Ensemble.
“It really means a lot to have the composer right there,” said Dr. David Feller, WSU saxophone professor. “So that you can know what the composer had in mind, what inspired the composer, how they want the song to be performed.”
While Castell enjoys playing a piece he has composed, he tries to write for others instead of himself.
“I want to imagine myself as a listener more than a performer,” Castell said.
Castell and others in the performing arts department would love to see more students writing and performing their own work.
“I like that somebody is willing to put themselves out there on the line. That can be one of the most difficult things in any creative art,” said Howe. “You feel stress from putting it out there for people to see.”
As Castell continues to write and perform new music, he hopes to inspire more students to compose their own pieces.
Feller supports that goal.
“You can really leave more of a legacy when you are a composer than when you are a performer,” Feller said.