If your college professor compared your hard work to a fungus, you might not know quite how to feel about it. When this happened to Summer Campbell ’23, however, she was nothing short of elated.
As part of her bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Lynchburg, Campbell was transforming the Beethoven classic “Fϋr Elise” into the Latin jazz-infused “Fury Lease!” when Dr. Chris Sharp offered his down-to-earth opinion.
“He came over to listen and said, ‘It’s growing on me like a fungus. I like it!’” Campbell said. “From that moment forward, I felt like I created something awesome!”
Sharp, an assistant professor of music at Lynchburg, thought so, too, and when “Fury Lease!” was finished, he added it to the catalog of his publishing company, C. Sharp Music. The sheet music can now be purchased worldwide from C. Sharp’s distributor, J.W. Pepper, which lists “Fury Lease!” as an “Editor’s Choice” and describes it as a “creative Latin extravaganza.”
“I thought enough of her piece to risk my own time and financial resources in bringing it to market as one of our products,” Sharp said. “That says a significant amount about Summer’s creativity and her ability to generate a product that we consider to have commercial appeal.
“This marks the first, but hopefully not the last, time we’ve accepted a student’s piece into our catalog. So yeah, that’s a pretty big deal.”
Sharp’s original assignment, from his Music Arranging class, was to “take a song from one genre and put it into another,” Campbell said, the kind of thing she already enjoyed doing.
“As someone who has always taken popular songs and put them into the more acoustic coffeehouse genre, I was fully prepared for this assignment,” the Richmond, Virginia, native added.
“I started with a different song — a neo-soul version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ — that I posted on my Instagram for the holidays. It was good, but that was just it. Good.
“It wasn’t revolutionary, and I remember thinking, ‘I like it, but I’ve already done this before.’ I let that arrangement be the placeholder for the assignment, but inside I knew I wanted to do something bigger and better.”
Campbell — a self-taught pianist, who plays about a dozen instruments total — started thinking about “songs that would be considered staples of a piano player’s repertoire.” She eventually landed on Beethoven’s “Fϋr Elise,” which she’d always wanted to learn on piano.
“As I sat in class, the main melody popped into my head, as it usually does, but this time with an explosive samba-infused riff backing it up,” she said. “This is the riff I heard in the trumpets after the introduction.
“From there, the arrangement almost wrote itself. It was second nature to me and everything fell into line so gracefully — a rare but absolutely beautiful occurrence when writing music.”
Campbell worked on the piece throughout her Music Arranging and Applied Composition classes, and also during private lessons with Sharp. “One day, he said he wanted to publish it under C. Sharp Music,” Campbell said. “That was such an honor because, if you know Dr. Sharp, he’s the best of the best and only wants the best of the best.
“He was incredibly helpful in reining in my musical ideas and creativity into rational things that could actually be played by instruments. His mentorship through the entire creative process was amazing, and I learned so much that will be forever useful in my career.”
Campbell also credits Dr. Chris Magee, director of Lynchburg’s Community Big Band, for his support of the project.
“He wanted [‘Fury Lease!] to be played at my last concert as a senior in the Community Big Band,” said Campbell, who also played in Lynchburg’s Wind Symphony and Orchestra, Jazz Band, and pep band.
“The first time we rehearsed it, I got a round of applause from the band and many compliments from band members saying it was fun to play and a great piece.”
For Campbell, who is taking a gap year with plans for grad school, her early success is still sinking in. “It was one of those moments where you don’t know how big of a deal it actually is until it happens,” she said. “I’m still processing it to this day.
“It’s an amazing achievement to have something that you created be seen as good enough to be out there in the real world for people to hear and play.”