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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: December 8, 2003
Volume 39, Number 10

Donsbach wins New Mexico Composer’s Competition

John Donald Robb Musical Trust at UNM bestows honor

By Carolyn Gonzales

Carl Donsbach, User Suport Analyst II, General Library Info TechnologyBy day, Carl Donsbach works as a user support analyst II for the General Library’s information technology department. By night, he composes a little music.

Donsbach recently won the New Mexico Composer’s Competition held by the John Donald Robb Musical Trust at UNM.

A condition of the competition was to use an ethno-musicological work of John Donald Robb, a lawyer turned musician who served as dean of the College of Fine Arts from 1942-57. Robb’s fascination with Hispanic folk music resulted in a collection of 3,000 field recordings of traditional songs and dances that are the foundation of the John Donald Robb Archive of Southwestern Music at UNM.
Donsbach scoured the collection and chose “Palomita.”

“I liked the melody. It’s very beautiful and has an interesting structure. My piece is titled ‘Palomita: Canción for Piano Trio.’ I set it for a chamber trio of piano, violin and cello,” he said. The piece will be performed at a composers symposium scheduled in Keller Hall in March, he said.

Robb got the piece from northern New Mexico. It is a song about a young lady experiencing anxiety over her young man. “She has a terrible dream about a wounded dove that came to her. Possibly it’s an omen,” he said.

Donsbach has been composing music since he came to UNM 20 years ago to earn a degree in guitar performance. “My interest in composing came after taking composition and music theory courses,” he said. Donsbach has composed a couple of symphonies including one he initially titled “Green Music” because it projected sympathy for the environment and environmental causes. He wrote it as his master’s thesis in composition in 1997.

“The idea was hard to get across without words, so I changed the title to Symphony #2,” he said. He composed Symphony #1 in 1988 after finishing his bachelor’s degree. “It wouldn’t leave me alone. It had to come out,” he explains.

This is not Donsbach’s first award. While a UNM undergraduate he won music composition awards for competitions open to graduates and undergraduates. “I won a couple of times,” he recalls.

As a computing professional Donsbach says there’s a kind of creativity in working with computers. “I’ve done programming, but now I repair machines and work to make sure that the software and hardware work well together,” he said. There’s harmony in that, too.

His interest in computers came through music. He worked copying music for several composers and arrangers locally. “I’d heard it could be done on computers. At the time it was a laborious process involving velum. Making changes involved scraping with a razor or a knife and cutting out replacement data and fitting it perfectly in its place,” he said.

He bought a secondhand computer and the program Finale. “I spent a lot of time devoted to making that computer work better. I got to the point where I started getting more computer work than music work,” he said. He was hired by CIRT in 1994 and transferred to the library a couple years later.

Although Donsbach’s composition work is a spare time activity, it’s noteworthy.