Composer, conductor, and pianist are only a few of the many hats worn by Mark Reyes ’24. From his early pandemic days as a clarinetist in Swarthmore’s Zoom Orchestra to composing an entirely student-led musical — Ashes of Fate, to be performed in the spring of 2024 — it is safe to say that Reyes has fully immersed himself into all that Swarthmore Music has to offer.
Music has been a part of Reyes’s life long before he stepped foot on Swarthmore’s Campus. “For as long as I can recall, I have always been doing music in some way,” he said, expressing his gratitude for the music-making opportunities he has had since the age of four. He credits his early involvement to Kindermusik, a youth music program run by a family friend, and private piano lessons: “I still have my old notebooks from 2007 with practice notes.” After realizing that he enjoyed playing the recorder in elementary school, he moved to the clarinet because it “seemed like a big recorder.” He then took on the bass clarinet and percussion in middle school, teaching himself the bass guitar and the drum set along the way.
In Reyes’ sophomore year of high school, he played the tenor drums in the drumline, performing at football games and shows. He had “an amazing time” learning “drill and drumline cadences,” but what made the experience special was “the bonds you create with fellow [drummers].” He explained that “the way the drumline works is like a unit . . . you have to be really keyed into what everyone else is doing.”
This sense of camaraderie exemplifies the kind of college experience Reyes searched for as a high school senior. Though he “knew Swarthmore had a solid music program,” it was the tight-knit community and small class size that drew him here. Starting at Swarthmore in the midst of the pandemic was no easy feat, but that did not deter Reyes from playing the clarinet for the Zoom orchestra and forming friendships with fellow musicians. Through his continued involvement in the department, including the Chinese Music Ensemble, the Chorus, and Music 48 (private music lessons), Reyes decided to become a Music major. More recently he added a Linguistics minor to his studies.
In the fall of 2022, Reyes participated in the Fetter Chamber Music Program alongside Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy ’24, whom he has been good friends with since his first year at Swarthmore. Their performance of four songs by Florence Price, featuring Reyes on the piano and Grinnage-Cassidy on vocals, remains a highlight for Reyes. In particular, Reyes recalls the positive influence of instructor Debra Scurto-Davis: “She helped me a lot not only with the musical aspects [on the piano], but also in terms of my mindset… she would remind me to relax, mellow out and accept the music when I was trying so hard to get it right.”
While Reyes’s music career at Swarthmore has been marked by plenty of performance, his passion lies in creating his own music. Conducting and Orchestration with Professor Andrew Hauze ’04 was particularly inspiring: “I was able to learn practical skills that I can see myself using in the future as a composer… [as] orchestration goes hand-in-hand with composing and arranging.” Part of the course involved either arranging a piece or composing something new; Reyes opted for the latter, and was able to hear his pieces performed live by musicians from the College. During that same semester, Reyes coincidentally received a last-minute emergency call to stand in as a conductor for the spring production of the musical Heathers: “It was quite the experience; I was learning as I went, and I was pretty new to theater.”
Theater is no longer new to Reyes; in fact, he has been pouring his time and energy into a large-scale theatrical passion project: composing the entirety of Ashes of Fate, an upcoming student-led musical written by Anastasia Lewis ’24.
“Around this time last year, I was looking for some experience here at the College as a composer, since that’s what I want to do later in life.” Lewis, a Film and Media Studies major and a good friend of Reyes, came to mind as someone to ask. At that point, she showed him a script, the opening of which was inspired by the song and staging of A Rumor in St. Petersburg from the musical Anastasia. “I drew on the darker-sounding opening of the song… [and] could hear an idea in my head, so I went to the piano and started writing a vocal melody.” Reyes then played his ideas to Lewis, who immediately took him on as the musical’s composer. His initial idea has since evolved into Come Get Me, now the opening song of Ashes of Fate. From there, the process unfolded quite organically, with rehearsals now in full swing in preparation for performances in the spring. This time, Kate Carlyle ’24 will be conducting, with Reyes on the piano. “It’s a big undertaking,” Reyes acknowledged, “but I’m 100% going to be extremely happy I did this when all the work is done.”
Ashes of Fate will be performed in the Lang Performing Arts Center’s Pearson-Hall Theater at 8 pm on March 22nd, 8 pm on March 23rd, and 2 pm on March 24th.
Favorite Music course at Swarthmore: Conducting and Orchestration with Professor Andrew Hauze, with shoutouts to 19th Century Music with Professor Barbara Milewski and Music 13 (Harmony, Counterpoint and Form 3) with Professor Gerald Levinson.
Favorite Music making experience at Swarthmore: The Fetter Concert with Whitney [Grinnage-Cassidy], but it will likely also be Ashes of Fate by the time I graduate.
What you’ll miss most about Swarthmore: It’s hard to pick one thing, but if I had to, it would be Swarthmore’s small and tight-knit community, which is why I came here in the first place. In particular, I will miss all those who have been great friends and mentors throughout this journey, including Lauren Park ’24, Kai Williams ’24, Annie Ping ’23.5, Professor Andrew Hauze, Professor Jon Kochavi, Professor Tracey Stewart, and everyone I’ve met through Music at Swarthmore.
What sound or noise do you love: The sound of a lush legato string section.
What sound or noise do you hate: Scraping sounds and repetitive, annoying background noise.
What’s the last song you played on your phone: ‘Mr Brightside’ by The Killers