Graduate’s composition a first for Saint Martin’s commencement

May 9, 2012

LACEY, WASHINGTON — In August 2009, Charles-John Fontillas ’12 came to Saint Martin’s campus and discovered his academic home, a place as close to his heart as his family home in Puyallup. On May 12, Fontillas’ senior project — a four-movement orchestral suite — will not only express his passion for Saint Martin’s, but will earn him a place in the University’s history books.

The suite, Martin’s Regard, is the first-ever composition by a graduating senior performed as part of the University’s commencement ceremonies. The piece will be performed during the prelude, as guests await the arrival of the Class of 2012. As a graduate himself, Fontillas will be one of more than 370 Saint Martin’s students celebrating commencement at Marcus Pavilion on Saturday.

The four movements of Martin’s Regard arise from Fontillas’ love for his University, and from his mentorship by his composition instructor, Claudia Simpson-Jones, the conductor and director of the Olympia Chamber Orchestra and adjunct professor of music at Saint Martin’s. The suite focuses on four aspects of campus life. The first movement reflects on the monks of St. Martin’s Abbey, while the second movement, “City in the Woods,” refers to the neighborhood of on-campus residence halls on Baran Drive. The third movement, “Saints in the Rain,” is about the students of Saint Martin’s. The final movement, “A Song for Old Main,” is a tribute to the oldest building on campus, the University’s original classroom structure.

The 24-year-old Fontillas felt he was creating a soundtrack as the movie of academic life was writing itself around him.

“I was improvising the movie scenes and the timing and the harmony as I went along,” says Fontillas. “Although the suite started out last fall as a class assignment, once I came up with the themes, it didn’t seem like work at all. The entire 14-minute piece, with all the parts, just came about.”

Simpson-Jones says the work was an unusual assignment, suiting Fontillas’ talents and academic goals.

“It’s important to consider the students’ different levels of experience and interests in making an assignment like this,” she explains. “In Charles’ case, his skills and intentions to study composition in graduate school dictated that he had to write a major work.”

Beyond the creation of the themes and writing the music, Fontillas also wrote the orchestration and determined the instrumentation to fit the needs of the Chamber Orchestra.

Fontillas says that after graduate school, he hopes to become a working composer in media ranging from the symphony orchestra to video games and commercial jingles. In the meantime, Professor Darrell Born, the University’s choral and music director, is planning to get Fontillas into Marcus Pavilion ahead of the other graduates, so he can hear his suite performed.

“Ordinarily, graduates line up on Old Main’s Grand Staircase, and they don’t hear the musical preludes the orchestra performs as families and friends are seated,” Born explains. “We’ll have to sneak Charles into Marcus Pavilion early for this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Saint Martin’s University is an independent four-year, coeducational university located on a 380-acre wooded campus in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 14 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 21 majors and six graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes 1,250 students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its main campus, and 650 more to its extension campuses located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Everett College, Centralia College and Tacoma Community College. Visit the Saint Martin’s University website at

For additional information:

Claudia Simpson-Jones
Adjunct Professor of Music
Saint Martin’s University

Darrell Born
Assistant Professor of Music
Saint Martin’s University

Sarah Holdener
Director of Community Relations and Event Management
Office of Marketing and Communications
Saint Martin’s University