Music unlocks the door to opportunities

Experienced cellist and composer William Gum makes notable new achievements


Emerson Traugott

NO LIMIT: As Gum glides his bow across his string playing the beginning chords of his award-winning original piece, Redwood Suite. Inspired by numerous artists, mainly those of the impressionist period, Gum’s talents and cultivation of talent have allowed him to participate in opportunist he never would have thought about. “To have a symphony premiered by the symphony orchestra that you’ve grown up seeing and admiring was just really cool, and unlike anything, I’d ever done before,” Gum said. “It was also just really special because I was able to collaborate with all of my friends, and I met a lot of cool people through that experience.”

Emerson Traugott, Photo Essay Editor

Relaxing his shoulders, taking one last breath before sweeping his bow across the strings; these are the small tasks of preparation young composer and accomplished cellist William Gum takes before performing one of his original pieces, A Redwood Suite. Inspired, along with his other compositions, by nature. 

“[Nature is] something that doesn’t have a lot of constructive rules, it’s very free and can be whatever you interpret it to be,” Gum said. “So, I frequently use it as a source of my inspiration because whatever that memory or image of nature means to me is what I can write about without any limitations.” 

The cello had always been on Gum’s mind when picturing the activities he would pressure in school. Unknowing at the time that this activity would lead to a lifelong passion for music, composing, and cello, as well as facilitating friendships with the same dedication and enthusiasm for music.  

“I had a neighborhood friend who played the cello and they really inspired me to start playing. They were very talented and really they were the main reason I picked up the cello in the first place,” Gum said. “My sister also plays viola so I knew I wanted to play in an orchestra anyway.”

Only one year after Gum selected the cello on his sixth-grade choice sheet, composing captured his interest. At 12 years old he began fiddling with notes, seeing how chords and other instruments come together to make something much bigger: later Gum started to replicate patterns and noises he heard in video games or other soundtracks, transcribing these noises onto sheet music. Gum’s organization of simple musical compositions is what he credits as the reason for initially gaining interest in the subject. However, after years of practice Gum enjoys different aspects of the activity. 

“The thing I love most about composing is just hearing how a finished product sounds,” Gum said “Knowing that I wrote that and I can be really proud of what I accomplished and it’s something that I really enjoy doing.” 

Composing is a difficult process requiring enormous amounts of concentration and a wide range of musical knowledge. Gum relies on spontaneity when creating a piece; enabling creativity to flow in an effort to prevent the confinement of repetitive procedures clouding new ideas, so when inspiration strikes Gum is always ready. 

“It’s mostly just writing a ton of really short drafts or keeping memos of ideas. Or even playing around on the piano and cello. And seeing what works, and what I like, And slowly putting the pieces together little by little,” Gum said. “I never have a clear process: it’s not like I will sit down one day and be like, ‘ok now I’m going to start a new piece’ and this is how I’m going to do it. It’s just whatever happens.”

Composing and cello alike opened the door for opportunities and relationships to foster. Collaborating with others and sharing inspiration sparks Gum’s own creativity.

“I think his creativity and his passion for music gives him ideas about different ways to make new music,” Gum’s friend and guitarist Besa Aulona Carney said. “And the amount of effort he puts into music, I’ve seen it and it’s really extraordinary.”

After nearly six years of playing cello, Gum’s diligence and admiration for the instrument have developed exponentially. However, Gum has still faced many challenges.

“I really struggle with motivation, in general with music staying motivated is kind of something you have to do yourself,” Gum said. “So when you’re doing something, especially composing and mentors are always pushing you to be better, it’s really up to you to continue to push yourself, or else you won’t really get anywhere.” 

Time, both in and outside the practicing room, as well as effort and skill, have allowed Gum to grow. Orchestra director Joseph Smith has witnessed this progression in aptitude. 

“I’ve watched Will go from being a young bright musician to an accomplished young adult with mature musical ideas,” Smith said. 

A distinguishable turning point in Gum’s musical career was his submission and unexpected eighth-place win in the Texas Young Composers Competition, using his original composition Redwood Suite. The competition requires a piece written from start to finish which is sent to a panel of judges who ultimately decide on eight pieces that will be performed by a professional orchestra.

 “When I heard the triumphant final chord of my piece, then standing up and walking on stage while seeing all the other musicians go up with me: I would describe it as one of the happiest moments of my life,” Gum said. “I also got to shake the Austin Symphony conductor Peter Bay’s hand. It was so special and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”