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Student Composer Showcase - A Conversation with Hilary Goldblatt and Erik Nielsen

Here is a photo of composer, Erik Nielsen, student, Callum Robechek and music educator, Hilary Goldblatt during Music-COMP's Opus 37 rehearsal in May of 2023.
Photo by Bobby Kintz
Here is a photo of composer, Erik Nielsen, student, Callum Robechek and music educator, Hilary Goldblatt during Music-COMP's Opus 37 rehearsal in May of 2023.

For July's Student Composer Showcase we share a conversation between Montpelier music educator, Hilary Goldblatt and professional composer, Erik Nielsen about their partnership through the years.

Erik Nielsen: Composition, creating music, has the potential to be life altering.

Hilary Goldblatt: The advantage of getting familiar with composition is that you’re thinking about the larger picture of “what is your role.”

James Stewart: That was composer, Erik Nielsen and music educator, Hilary Goldblatt. I’m James Stewart and this is the Student Composer Showcase from Vermont Public Classical and Music-COMP, the online composition mentoring program. This month we feature a special conversation between these two friends and music educators. Hilary Goldblatt is an outgoing music educator in the Montpelier Roxbury Schools…

Hilary: …from 2007 to this Spring, 2023.

James: Erik Nelsen is a professional composer who has had his music performed all around the world and has been a mentor with Music-COMP since 2004.

Erik: And I have been senior-mentor at Music-COMP since 2012.

James: Hilary and Erik’s friendship began in 2012 when Hilary attended one of Music-COMP’s Summer workshops…

Hilary: And that was probably the best professional development I ever participated in. And after that, the following year, I sent a student or two to the Opus competitions organized by Music-COMP.

James: Hilary and Erik started working together in Hilary’s classrooms. Erik would come for a 10-week residency program during the winter months.

Erik: We would work towards a culminating activity. Those students whose works were selected would have their pieces performed at a concert at the end of the residency where high school players played the works of selected middle school students and then professionals would perform the works that the high school students wrote. And in addition, some of the students took advantage of the opportunities through Music-COMP and had their works performed in Opus events and other venues.

James: The beauty of this partnership is that they repeated it year after year.

Hilary: Doing it once is powerful, but doing it eight years in a row is something else. The evolution for each student was really powerful throughout that time. The fact that we were spending, you know, parts of three months on this process and just expecting and hoping and coaxing them through creating something from scratch. That just really, for each student, showed them that their ideas matter, that they had something to say that we expected them to get to a point where they were really sharing a message or an idea with their music.

Erik: This is something where students can build on past success. And one of the things that Hillary and I have talked about again and again and again is seeing the growth just from Fifth Grade and that growth continues all the way through. And that's why students in their senior year, who have stuck with it, are not just much more competent at composition but are also much more confident, not just as composers but as human beings.

James: Here is where Hilary gushes a bit about the students that the two have mentored over the years and the remarkable experiences that they’ve had a chance to share.

Hilary: You know, Callum Robechek won the All-State Scholarship Competition for composition and you know, conducted his own piece. That was a really huge moment. I think in his development as a musician, as someone who's contributing really to the musical world, now, in this state.

James: And here is a little taste of Callum’s piece that was shared at Music-COMP’s Opus 37 concert in May of 2023 called “Lullaby for Mingus”.

Hilary: The older students really would kind of inspire the younger students and that's an educational model for success anywhere you go. And so when I show the Fifth Graders, “Oh, my high school student just wrote this piece,” and I would press play and they saw notes everywhere. These scores are full of like 12 lines, (they are like) “What? We can do that at some point in just a couple of years?” And that just was really I think the beauty of it.

Erik: And I do have to say this is just something that's part of my being. I think that even for students who do not go on, they realize what they're capable of. “This came out of me! No one can take this away from me, and this is something I did!” To see these students working with Hillary and me, to see them light up, to see them come in and to see them talking about what they're doing and the excitement is something that you can't bottle.

Hilary: And literally whenever I would tell a student, "oh, your piece made it to opus," you know, 27, whatever it was when I started. They literally, it was like I told them they had just won a million bucks, they were like “What!?” And they would jump for joy.

James: To find more information about how you or a young composer in your life can get involved in Music-COMP check out their website,

Special thanks to Stefanie Weigand the brand-new executive director of Music-COMP who conducted this interview and made these recordings available to us.

The Music Composition Mentoring Program (Music-COMP) is a Vermont non-profit started in 1995 that teaches students in grades 3-12 how to compose original music. Students are paired with professional composers as mentors, and over 50 works are premiered each year with professional musicians.

Production support for the Student Composer Showcase is provided by Lake Champlain Access Television, a community media center serving eight towns in Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle Counties, providing a free forum for expression, and a link to local government and training. More at

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.