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Student Composer Showcase - VSO MasterClef Competition 2022

From right to left: Jeremiah Stewart, Callum Robechek, Maaike Dam, Matt LaRocca,* Jonathan Kafumbe, Matthew Evan Taylor,* Randal Pierce* *Panelist/adjudicator
Hannah Hansen
Used with permission
From right to left: Jeremiah Stewart, Callum Robechek, Maaike Dam, Matt LaRocca,* Jonathan Kafumbe, Matthew Evan Taylor,* Randal Pierce* *Panelist/adjudicator

Maaike Dam: Well, at the beginning I kind of imagined, like a field with animals, the sun is rising and there’s like mist on the grass and stuff and everything’s very nice and pretty.

James: That was Maaike Dam an 11th grader from Kirby describing their composition “From Light… Despair.” Maaike won the grand prize in the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s second annual MasterClef Competition. In late October, nine finalists came to Contois Auditorium in Burlington to present their music and get feedback from a panelist of composers.

Matthew Evan Taylor: So, MasterClef is this great outreach program that invites young composers around the state of Vermont to submit arrangements of themes from a particular composer. So, I happen to be the honored composer this time.

James: That’s Matthew Evan Taylor, a composer and professor of music at Middlebury College. Each finalist started with a seven-measure theme from Evan Taylor’s “From Despair… Light” and were invited to arrange, perform, compose, produce or improvise a new work.

Matthew: I’m really excited for people to hear what their imaginations brought out.

Jeremy Holzhammer: It was a really fun challenge to try to build a piece that we were given into a song that’s of my style that I usually make.

Callum Robechek: And also the availability to do any style of music. I mean, last year what I did was like chill, EDM sort of hip-hop sort of stuff and this year I did a score.

James: And there was a wide range of styles on display that evening, from progressive rock, hip-hop beats, solo piano works, brass quintets, string and full orchestra scores, so many different musical expressions. I had a chance to sit down with many of the finalists and ask what inspired them to participate.

Jonathan Kafube: Basically I just love making music. I’ve made it like a habit to make one composition every week.

Sam Kafferlin: Well, I did it last year. I really enjoyed it. I like composing.

Robbie Safran: You know, I’m not a professional composer by any means but I’ve done composing sort of as a hobby since middle school, since around 6th grade.

Jeremiah Stewart: I think that MasterClef will be a good opportunity to pursue music, specifically composition after high school.

Harrison Brown: I think it’s really cool to have music that I’ve mostly created be reviewed by real, professional musicians.

James: There were three panelists who had studied the scores and recordings from each of the finalists. A student presented their piece, the group listened to the work together and the panelists gave feedback to the composer.

Randal Pierce: I like those voicings a lot, having that melody at the top and some of those chord tones…

Matt LaRocca: That Ab Major chord especially…

Matthew Evan Taylor: What I really love about this piece, the melody really is a singing melody…

Matt LaRocca: You have a wonderful moment at the bottom of page six…

James: The comments were supportive and constructive in a tangible, practical way. The panelists encouraged the composers to go further in their craft, to try new ideas, explore new genres and specially to continue making music. After each finalist presented their piece, the adjudicators met to decide which composers would be taking home a cash prize along with a “composer’s bundle” of helpful tools to continue their craft.

Hannah Hansen: Congratulations to everybody thank you so much for being here and supporting these young composers.

James: That was Hannah Hansen, the Education Coordinator for the VSO, welcoming everyone back as Matthew Evan Taylor stood to present the awards:

Matthew Evan Taylor: Just because you don’t get called doesn’t mean that we didn’t value your work. This was actually a really hard decision for us and we really are impressed by all of you.

James: Congratulations to grand prize winner Maaike Dam, to the runners up, Callum Robechek and Jonathan Kafumbe and to Jeremiah Stewart who was awarded an honorable mention.

Matt LaRocca: It’s such a gift and one of the most powerful things that we can do and it’s beautiful, it’s meaningful and it’s so special for you to share your music with us. So, if we could have all our composers stand.

James: MasterClef is a music composition competition for middle and high school students in grades 6-12. You can see pictures of this year’s winners, examples from last year’s event and so much more at