Imagine composing a 6.5-minute jazz piece for 15 instruments, featuring a vibraphone. Now imagine doing that during your final year as an undergraduate double majoring in business and music. Binghamton senior Julian Cubeiro’s “Kolymbithres” premiered Nov. 18, performed by the Harpur Jazz Ensemble in the Anderson Center on campus.
“The piece displays all the hallmarks of a very promising artist, with a unique fusion of playfully complex rhythms, surprising harmonies and genre-crossing riffs that is ‘very Julian,’” says Daniel Thomas Davis, associate professor of music. “Beyond that, it’s particularly special to see and hear a student create a major new composition for an ensemble in which they’ve been a performing member for a number of years.”
When Cubeiro, a vibraphonist with the ensemble, asked the group’s director about the possibility of performing an original composition last fall, he agreed to it without hesitation. “Julian is an incredible jazz musician and his level of ability on the vibraphone from the get-go was extremely high,” says Michael Carbone, director of jazz studies. “The first read-through of the piece was, ‘Wow … this is incredible.’ The piece is so well put together and colorful.”
It took Cubeiro 60 hours to compose “Kolymbithres,” which is named after a beach on the island of Paros in Greece. It’s where he spent his summer break with friends, getting “into the weeds” of composing, drawing inspiration from the beach and the emotions that came with that — relaxation, happiness and bliss.
The Flushing, Queens, resident taught himself how to play and harmonize on the piano starting at age 3, and later expanded into percussion and electric bass. Cubeiro didn’t experience playing in a band until he was a senior in high school, but since he was already comfortable with percussion, he found the vibraphone a natural fit: “I could see the keyboard in front of me so it was a colliding of those two worlds.”
His first love will always be piano, though, and it is key to his creative process: “Playing the piano is almost meditative or therapeutic. I enjoy just playing something without thinking,” Cubeiro says. “I like to sit down without a goal and just play chords. And when I play something memorable, I build on it.”
He didn’t start creating his own music until he was teenager, writing his first song during his junior year of high school. Cubeiro initially learned about composition by taking existing songs and recreating them in a free, open-source musical notation software called MuseScore.
He has hundreds of voice memos on his phone that run from a mere 10 seconds to 25 minutes, named after their key, an emotion or another artist, just so he has an idea of what’s saved.
“‘Kolythimbres’ was initially named something like ‘Warm night melody in E major,’” he says, “and it came from a 10-second snippet that I recorded in October 2020. I’m not the greatest when it comes to naming things. It’s last in the process for me.”
Cubeiro has about 30 completed songs, and he hopes to compose music for video games, movies or television shows and to teach music.
His compositional strength is pulling together genres and styles that don’t seem to belong together, Davis says, “and he creates something deeply personal in the process — video game aesthetics, minimalistic repeating figures, Big Band color and harmonies, and ear-catching tunes all woven together into a dynamic tapestry of sound.”