Student Artist Spotlight: Justin Kogasaka ’22 on tackling the ‘daunting’ task of composing


Justin Kogasaka ’22 has been composing since his sophomore year at Lafayette. (Photo courtesy of Justin Kogasaka ’22).

By Bernadette Russo, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

Music is always on the mind of Justin Kogasaka ‘22. Whether he is walking on the quad or waiting at Lower for food, he is always developing ideas for his next musical composition.

Kogasaka quickly dove into the art of composition after taking an introductory class on the topic sophomore year. Although he had played viola and piano throughout his life, composition was an entirely new sphere of music. 

“It’s a daunting task in the beginning. The main thing is taking your ideas and executing them with conviction,” Kogasaka said. 

As of today, Kogasaka has composed for various student ensembles on campus, including concert band, orchestra and percussion ensemble.

“Most musicians are on the other side, where they’re looking at the music and performing it. To be…the one giving instructions to musicians is a very interesting experience,” Kogasaka said.

The moment that he is most proud of is meeting the Boston-based professional quartet Hub New Music last semester with two other student composers. The students had the opportunity to write a piece for the quartet to perform at Lafayette, which Kogasaka used as a chance to develop his composing skills.

“That was really exciting, to read for a professional group and hear what they thought about my music,” Kogasaka said.

Kogasaka believes that his compositions are a record of his musical journey as he picks up influences from classes, professors and friends. One piece that he composed for the percussion ensemble last spring was heavily influenced by Balinese Gamelan percussion music, which he learned about in a class with Music Professor Larry Stockton

“The music that I write, you can kind of tell when I wrote it because of the musical influences in my life at that point,” Kogasaka said. 

Apart from interpersonal influences, Kogasaka’s main musical inspirations stem from classical composers such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Recently, he has started to open himself up to more contemporary genres such as jazz, video game soundtracks and musical theater.

Throughout the process of learning how to compose music, Kogasaka has consistently looked up to Music Professor Kirk O’Riordan as a mentor. He has been taking private lessons with him in composition ever since entering the art. According to Kogasaka, O’Riordan’s guidance has broadened his musical horizons.

Kogasaka, an electrical and computer engineering major, believes that his many interests overlap.

“With electrical engineering, there’s a lot of critical thinking, logical reasoning on a very intellectual, mathematical and physical level,” Kogasaka said. “But to the same extent, those skills have helped me in music.” 

Kogasaka is currently developing his senior thesis in composition, which serves as a culmination of his musical studies at Lafayette. At the end of the semester, the string orchestra will be performing his thesis piece and the string quartet will perform another piece he has composed.

Kogasaka does not plan on ending his musical studies anytime soon. He is considering going to graduate school sometime in the future to further refine his composing skills.

“I would like to continue composing for, basically, forever,” Kogasaka said.