Name: Toussaint Santicola Jones
Hometown: Albany, New York
Class Year: 2025
Musical Groups: Princeton Camerata (composer in residence), Sinfonia (commissioned composer) Strawberry Milk (bassist, singer, and co-composer), Barque (bassist and co-composer), Villanelle (bassist), Ramona Jade (bassist), and the newly-formed progressive metal band Cygnus (8-string guitarist)
Easing into the day. I don’t wake up too early most Saturdays. Friday nights are my composition time, the only time in the week when I can take a break from the homework grind to write, so I probably wake up around 10am. The rest of the day is band rehearsal. I’m in six bands, and we generally have rehearsals for two or three of them on Saturdays.
Fueling up. First, I’ll get brunch. Everyone’s a Forbes brunch fan. The waffles are really good – they, like, caramelize them – and they have a yogurt bar, too, which is really great. Sometimes I’ll get brunch with a collaborator. This morning it was Aaron Ventresca (‘24). He’s a composer and pianist who will be pursuing a music theater certificate. We knew one another from the Aquinas Institute. I’m orchestrating his musical comedy. We’ll meet and chat.
Off to rehearsal. By noon I’m in rehearsal for one of the bands. Right now, I’m a fill-in bassist for another composer’s band, Ramona Jade, which is run by Christien Ayers (’23), a brilliant member of the music department.
Rehearsal #2. At two I have rehearsal with Camerata, the student-run chamber orchestra. Last semester they did a piece I wrote for them over winter break, which was on a topic we encountered in a class I took the previous fall, Civilization of the High Middle Ages with Professor William Jordan. (I’m really into Norse language, history, literature, and archeology.) This semester the ensemble is doing a piece I wrote for them over the summer. In rehearsal, we’ll get into the weeds and try different things. I’ve had some commissions where I send the piece off and then I’ll be there for the dress rehearsal; we don’t have time to play. So it’s a really special experience here. Because I’m writing for Camerata for the second time I also have a lot of information about specifically who’s playing each part, so I can write fun things that I know will work well, which is really special. For example, there is a very good trombonist, Jack Isaac (’23). He did a trombone concerto on the last concert, so I was like, all right, if we have him then these high sliding trombone parts are going to be good. We also have some great violin players who can really go to the full extent of their range. One of my friends, Ian Fernandes (’25), is one of these people. I play with him a lot and it’s just like, are you a professional? Like, how are you in college and you’re this good?
This Saturday, the second half of rehearsal is devoted to my new piece Samhain, a 22-minute piece from which we’re doing the fourth and final movement. Samhain is an old Irish holiday that takes place on November 1 and marks the beginning of the darkest period of the year. The fourth movement is about this passage tomb called the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara that dates back to 3000 BC. On Samhain, the sun rises and shines down the passage of this tomb, so this movement starts by introducing the very bleak beginning of winter light just peeking over the earth. I’m trying to be as brittle as possible. The strings are very staggered across their range, violins quite high and cellos quite low. Then it gathers intensity. The brass take on sunlight and warmth. It comes to an end with two main trombone parts sliding into tune with one another and then crystallizing on a major chord that I’m hoping that we can tune slightly so it’s more justly tuned. That’s going to be performed later this semester.
Strawberry Milk. At 5pm every Saturday, we rehearse with my band Strawberry Milk. It was founded by all five of the members and we all write together. Before coming to school, they came to visit my grandparents’ house in the Catskills and we wrote, like, 14 songs. Now we’re polishing and perfecting them, getting ready for some eating club gigs that we have coming up. We spot check some sections and clean them up. There’s this really fun one where the two guitarists and I (on the bass) are playing a line that walks all over the place. It’s the central point of the piece. I realized on this one section that it was a little bit messy, and I was like, what’s going on? And I realized that the guitarists were articulating every note while I was doing a hammer on one of them. That cleaned it up amazingly. It’s really fun to come together and create these songs and then perfect them, just as we would on someone else’s music.
Pasta and planning. I think I have the closest dorm room to the New College West dining hall, which is both great and not so great because it’s a major thoroughfare. My favorite thing to eat for dinner is any kind of pasta. They have yet to do it this year, but the best has been this shrimp alfredo pasta that they do. This semester, Saturday dinner has also been a time when I’ll meet with collaborators. We’ll get dinner and talk about the project.
Some work and some play. After dinner is when I learn parts that I’ve been neglecting for Sunday’s rehearsals. After that, there’s often an event. I’m not the biggest party person, but more of the music groups have been having events lately, like pickups for Camerata, for example. Sometimes we’ll have an eating club gig on Saturday nights now, so it could be a much later night for me. If we have a gig, normally we won’t start until 11:30 or midnight. Then I’ll get to talking with friends and by the time we’ve hauled the gear back to my room (I have a big single so I’m gear storage), it could be three in the morning. Saturday night can sometimes be a homework night too (if I don’t fall asleep first). There’s a really fun class that I’m taking right now, Species Counterpoint with Professor Juri Seo, that’s been really helpful for my compositional work. I’m doing a commission with the Little Orchestra Society in New York, and I find the transcription and counterpoint exercises in Professor Seo’s course to be really helpful in reminding me to think at a very small level about every little bit that’s happening in my music, not to only think in broad strokes. If I have a chance, I sometimes try to compose on Saturday nights, especially if there’s a lull in work, which there almost never is. I have fifteen pots on different fires at all times, so Friday and Saturday mentally are the best times to be able to venture into some of my own work for the future. I might think about my upcoming Sinfonia commission, which is based on a Leonora Carrington painting “Red Horses of the Sídhe” that can be seen in Princeton’s collection.
Winding down. I’m an audiobook person. Right now I’m on my periodic Harry Potter read-through. It’s my favorite book and I find it relaxing, so I’ll often come back to it during crunch time. I’m periodically reading my other favorite book, “The Silmarillion” by Tolkien. I’m planning my senior thesis around it actually: I’ll be looking at three of the Rush prog epics, examining when they use certain kinds of strumming techniques, tempos and chords, interplay between bass and guitar, and then trying to make my own prog epic around “The Silmarillion.” It’s going to be a monumental effort. I’m also writing some prog rock pieces right now about another book that I was listening to last semester, “The Name of the Wind” from the Kingkiller Chronicle. I’m a big fantasy person, and fantasy and prog rock obviously go together quite well. That one’s a Strawberry Milk project. Before I know it, I’m waking up on Sunday – a scary day of thinking about what’s due tomorrow!
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