Sitting before you is a blank sheet of paper, save for an empty musical staff. You assignment is to write great music using the guidelines of the contest you’ve already entered. Not more than eight minutes, and the instrumentation… what is it, string quartet? Maybe solo piano? How about a short cello sonata?
Or maybe you’re told to write for trombone and violin.
“That was really surprising to hear,” composer Sam Rainey said with a nervous smile. “Everybody was telling me that’s going to be really challenging because you’re only working with those two instruments. So I immediately thought of the violin as being the melodic counterpart, but I didn’t want the trombone being just rhythm. So I kind of tried to switch them on and off, and transition each person’s melody into the next.”
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For his piece “Paradise Found,” Rainey was awarded first place for the second year in a row at Northwest Vista College’s annual Jack Stone Awards for New Music competition. The nationwide contest is open only to composers who are enrolled at a community college, which levels the playing field among student abilities, according to organizer Beth May. That way, younger composers aren’t competing against students who are pursuing an advanced degree, the way most other competitions are organized.
Still, it’s hard to tell that these innovative works aren’t coming from the pen of students older than Rainey, or second place winner Rebekah Novinger, and third place winner Daniel Kilhoffer, who is actually still in high school, and double enrolled at Centralia College in a dual credit program.
Novinger’s piece, “Transient Waltz,” draws inspiration from favorite old movies of hers like “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” and Kilhoffer’s work, “Little Arachnus,” uses jazz chords on a backing track to allow the trombone and violin to trade funky, bluesy riffs.
Each of the winners was flown to San Antonio to attend a public performance of their work by the duo of violinist Molly Emerman and trombonist Steve Parker, who completed the March 27 program with a series of innovative works for the unique instrumental pair, including a Texas bred piece, “Ground Round,” that’d be just as at home at the stockyards as the concert hall.
You can hear the full concert this Saturday night, April 28, at 7 p.m. on KPAC 88.3 FM’s Performance Saturday.
Hear interviews with all three student composers below.