Five Years After Study Abroad: IES Abroad Alum William Rowe, Composer

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William Rowe

While studying abroad in Vienna, William Rowe (IES Abroad Vienna, Fall 2012 | Indiana University) was inspired by Vienna’s rich musical history. A year later he was blown away to witness his original music compositions professionally performed in the city he had called home for a semester. Today, he continues works as a composer, and we caught up with William to hear how this IES Abroad Scholarship recipient’s study abroad experience shaped his musical career.

IES Abroad: As a student at Indiana University, what led you to study abroad in Vienna?

William Rowe (WR): The IES Abroad Vienna – Music program was actually something that informed my decision to go to Indiana in the first place! The chance to study abroad in a place with rich musical culture was something that I sought out in an institution, and I knew even before I arrived in Bloomington that IES Abroad Vienna was going to be part of the plan. 

What impact did the IES Abroad Scholarship you received have on your career path and journey to where you are today?

WR: The IES Abroad Scholarship was what made my semester abroad possible, and I came out all the richer because of it. My semester abroad in Austria was my first time outside of the United States, and like many other first-time travelers will tell you, it radically changed my worldview. Being immersed in the Central-European style of contemporary classical music was a huge learning experience. I discovered new details in composition that I otherwise might not have, and likewise, reaffirmed other parts of my American compositional education. Additionally, I was wildly inspired by the broader Viennese culture. The year 2012 was the Year of Gustav Klimt, one of the most prominent painters in Austria’s history, and I actually ended up writing a set of character pieces for violin and piano that are companion pieces to several of Klimt’s artworks.

What inspired you to become a composer, and how did you get your start?

WR: I’ve been making up tunes for as long as I can remember. It’s always just been kind of this instinct – there’s this thing in my brain that I just have to get out. I wrote something down for the first time when I was 11, but I’d say that I got my real start as a composer when I attended Interlochen’s summer camp in 2009. This was my first time getting a real education in composition, and that was the point that composing turned from a hobby into a career path.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

WR: There have been many, but one I remember especially fondly is attending the World New Music Days (WNMD) Festival in 2013 as the American International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) composer representative. By sheer coincidence, the WNMD festival that year took place in Kosice, Bratislava, and Vienna … and my piece ended up being performed at Urania in Vienna. Not only was it fantastic to return to my home away from home, but it was my first time associating with professional composers, and being treated as such in return.William Rowe studying abroad in Austria

Are there any lessons or skills you developed while studying abroad that you continue to draw upon today?

WR: The most important lesson I took away from studying abroad was to regularly practice putting myself outside of my comfort zone. Not only does this open me up to new and exciting experiences I might not otherwise be exposed to, but it also helps me continue to grow. The situations I am unsure of how to handle are the true litmus tests of character, and I’ve been all the happier getting deeper in touch with myself through these trials.

Do you have any advice for students who are thinking of studying or interning abroad?

WR: Why are you still thinking about it!? It will be one of the transformative experiences of your life! Get out there! Go do it! Right now!

This article was originally published in the IES Abroad alumni magazine Exchange. The “Five Years After Study Abroad” series features alumni who received IES Abroad scholarships, and explores how studying abroad shaped their life and career.

Interested in music-focused study abroad programs? Be sure to explore our best places to study abroad for music lovers!

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