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Whitefish Bay student composes rousing orchestra piece

From the school’s grand piano, Sabrina Raber plays as the Whitefish Bay High School Orchestra practices her composition, “Proelio Morum,” before its concert last week.

From the school’s grand piano, Sabrina Raber plays as the Whitefish Bay High School Orchestra practices her composition, “Proelio Morum,” before its concert last week. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Dec. 12, 2012

Listen to a HQ recording of "Proelio Morum," written by Sabrina Raber and performed by the Whitefish Bay High School Orchestra.

Whitefish Bay - Like many her age, 17-year-old Whitefish Bay High School senior Sabrina Raber had found herself with a moral quandary - wondering where the line is between right and wrong.

Unlike many her age, she took the deliberation to the stage, and to the ear.

Raber's original string orchestra composition, "Proelio Morum," Latin for "Battle of Morality," pits lower, darker sounds and rhythms against the higher ones "which could be construed as good," she says.

Yet her battle, like so many of our decisions, has a gray area as well, played out by her protagonist - a viola soloist whose part, in Raber's mind, skirts the edge of good and evil.

"Whenever I write music I always try to think of it as a story," says Raber. "… (The viola) can be high and it can be low, and I'm fascinated by that."

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After Raber started playing piano at 8 she began writing her own music. Little snippets of song at first, she says, tinkerings which sounded good to her. After time and experience with various instruments, people and performances, it all came together for "Proelio Morum," which the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra debuted in the spring and the high school orchestra played in concert last week.

"That's when I really started thinking about adding all those theory components from piano," Raber says, "and all the techniques I learned from flute, and all of those orchestral things I've heard."

The music comes in fits and starts. At times she'll even wake up in the middle of the night to scribble down a tune, adding bar by bar to her growing repository of disparate passages.

"When I write music it has to come to me," says Raber. "It's really hard for me to sit down and just think of something. Someday I want to go back and take a look at all those half-written things."

She wrote "Proelio Morum" in that fashion, working out of local coffee shops for days at a time on weekends. In total, it took about a month and a half to write, edit and finalize the song as part of the John Downey Creation Project at MYSO, where she is currently writing a 29-instrument, full symphony orchestra piece.

Kathryn Borghesani, orchestra director at Whitefish Bay High School, praised the work as "an outstanding composition for a person her age" while noting that it remains accessible for high school students.

"I think she has a great foundation," says Borghesani, "and she should go far in the field, as far as she wants to go."

Despite the tough odds, Raber plans to major in music performance in college while keeping musical composition in mind. As a self-described "music geek," it's the only path she can imagine for herself.

"It's the one thing that really makes me happy," she says. "Performing is kind of who I am."

An optimistic performer, if her "Battle of Morality" is any indication.

"It ends good," Raber says, grinning. "Good wins over all."

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