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home : features : schools & education April 24, 2015

4/10/2013 8:08:00 AM
Young composers find out what works, what doesn't
Kirsi Steverson, 13, of Prescott Valley, listens as Douglas Gibson, judge at the Young Composers competition on March 2, ponders a final chord in Kirsiís composition, Masterful Mistake. Kirsi earned an Honorable Mention and $75 in the Prescott Fine Arts Association competition.
Trib Photo/Sue Tone
Kirsi Steverson, 13, of Prescott Valley, listens as Douglas Gibson, judge at the Young Composers competition on March 2, ponders a final chord in Kirsiís composition, Masterful Mistake. Kirsi earned an Honorable Mention and $75 in the Prescott Fine Arts Association competition.
Trib Photo/Sue Tone

Sue Tone

Twenty young musicians, ages 10-17, put fingers to keys or strings, and pen to paper, to create original compositions in the first Music Composition category of the Prescott Fine Arts Association Scholarship Competition.

Winners received from $75-$350 in prize money, and the first place winners will perform at the awards ceremony on April 28, along with winners in the drama category.

Prescott composer and teacher Henry Flurry organized the competition.

"It completely exceeded my expectations - from having close to double the number of students I expected register, to the quality of the music submitted, and to the thorough, encouraging, and insightful comments made by our judge, Douglas Gibson," Flurry said.

All three Division 1 winners (ages 10-13) are from Prescott: Spencer Hewitt, 12, first place, $250; Nathan Flurry, 13, second place, $175; and Tyler Alanis, 13, third place, $150. Three students earned $75 and Honorable Mention: Corey Cline and Kirsi Steverson from Prescott Valley, and Julia Goswick from Prescott.

First and second place winners in Division 2 (ages 14-18) also hail from Prescott: Gabriel Riegner, 16, first place, $350; and Anna Flurry, 16, second place, $250. The judge did not award third place, but four students received Honorable Mentions and $75 each: Daniel Carlisi, Zara Glidden, Amber Hewitt and Wesley Stine, all from Prescott.

Michael Mahany, Prescott Valley piano teacher, had seven students in the competition.

"I ask all of my students to incorporate improvisation into their daily practice, and composition is a natural outgrowth of that," Mahany said.

Students are required to submit compositions written in standard music notation. The pieces ranged in length from 30 seconds to 10 minutes.

"Some of the students wrote out in hand, some used professional music notation software like Sibelius or Finale, and some used free or very inexpensive software, like Finale NotePad, or the one I now point my students to, the web based notation editor," Flurry said.

The judge plays and reviews the compositions ahead of the competition, then listens as the student/composer plays the piece.

When Corey Cline played "Elegy," Gibson complimented him on his "skilled performance and virtuoso piano playing." Then the judge wondered what might happen if Corey were to hand it to someone else to play. What is clear to the composer, unless notated on the music, might not be clear to the performer.

"Mark all the things you need for another performer to play it," Gibson told the student. "It's really cool. You have this motif going, the ninth going to the root. It's a dissonant note, you want it to resolve, and you do."

The judge evaluates the compositions based upon notation - clarity, accuracy, correct note spelling; formal organization - of materials, unity, form; cohesiveness - logical use of style, rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic ideas; ideas - creativity and originality; idiomatic - writing for the instruments; craft - counterpoint, voicing, orchestration; and heart - musical direction and journey, and text painting.

Kirsi Steverson's "Masterful Mistake" came about with an Amaj6 chord, the 13-year-old said.

"It's no small feat to take that one small chord and make it into the whole piece," Gibson told her, adding a suggestion to write in dynamics in certain bars. He said he thought she could add in different instruments and have a nice blues piece.

A spooky number called "Macabre Music Box" by Julia Goswick led Gibson to call out "Bravo" at the finish.

"You have a good title and a cohesive form. We hear the melody come back, but it goes higher and higher, which to my ear sounds like a music box," the judge said. "It already sounds ominous like, maybe I really shouldn't open that door."

First place winner Gabriel Riegner wrote a piece for mandolin, about which Gibson said, "You really take full advantage of the range and textural possibilities of the mandolin. You know the instrument very, very well."

The students' compositions were displayed on a large screen so that Gibson could discuss the piece not only with the student, but also allow the audience to see what he was talking about.

It is rare for young students to have not only a public performance of their works, but also to have a lesson with a master composer, Flurry said.

"There is a whole level of musical creativity at this age which is often under-appreciated and underdeveloped," he said. "In my opinion, there should be a well-publicized and well-attended concert of music written and performed by our area youth."

The awards ceremony for winners of the music and drama competition takes place at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, at Trinity Presbyterian Church at Park and Copper Basin Road in Prescott.

The Prescott Center for the Arts also sponsors an art competition, and those winners will be honored at an awards ceremony at the PCA Theater at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 21, with reception to follow in the Gallery.

Through the generosity of local groups and individuals, the PCA Scholarship Program has grown from seven entries and two winners in 1983 to a program which, in its 29th season, saw 234 young people compete for awards in eight categories. Eighty-two cash prizes were awarded totaling $14,350.

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