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Festival spotlights local students’ music compositions

photo of David Robertson, Stephanie Berg and Jeanne Sinquefield
Courtesy of the St. Louis Symphony

How old do you have to be to compose music? A University of Missouri–Columbia program is proving that students of any age can do it.

The Creating Original Music Project, now in its 10th year, is a statewide composition festival that recognizes work from students, kindergarteners to high school seniors. This year, 70 students applied. Of the 18 winners, eight are from the St. Louis area.

“Each of these winning composers in this competition are brought to the University of Missouri, and they either perform their composition themselves, or we have University of Missouri students perform it for them,” William “Billy” Lackey, managing director of the Mizzou New Music Initiative, told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter on Friday. “They are given a cash prize and their school is also given a cash prize, which I think it pretty amazing because it allows some of the schools to purchase equipment or music or something like that that they need for their school.”

That festival will be April 18 in Columbia, Mo.; it also will be live-streamed.  

That’s exactly how MU junior Ben Colagiovanni, a composition major, got started composing music.

“I was actually taking voice lessons at the time, just for fun,” Colagiovanni said. At the time, he was a junior at Clayton High School. “I really didn’t think I was going to do music at all beyond high school. My voice teacher actually told me about the Creating Original Music Project. I didn’t really think much of it, but about two weeks later, I was in my high school and I saw a poster for it.”

Colagiovanni, who also is a jazz pianist, got a group of friends together, wrote a song and recorded it.

“I wound up winning first place in the jazz category,” he said. He entered again as a senior and won again.  

“There’s a very strong contingency of student composers, especially in St. Louis,” he said. “I think it helps that we’re surrounded by so many great music institutions, like Jazz at the Bistro and the St. Louis Symphony just to name a few. It’s really easy for people who are in middle school or high school to get out and see and hear great music, great musicians on a regular basis.”  

The contest helps do the same thing, said Stephanie Berg, a composer and clarinetist. Last year, her composition “Ravish and Mayhem was performed by the St. Louis Symphony.

“I think the Creating Original Music program allows kids to actually consider composition as something that they can do,” she said. “You can take art classes, and you can take performance music classes — you know, choir and band and all that. But it’s very rare that schools would actually offer a compositional class where you actually get to create original music yourself. The Creating Original Music Project actually gives kids permission to create music — to say that this is something that you also can do.”

In addition to monetary prizes, the winners in the high school division also receive full scholarships to a summer composition camp at Mizzou. “This is where we find some of the best and brightest young composers in the state of Missouri,” Lackey said.

Related event

COMP Festival

  • When: 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 18, 2015
  • Where: Fine Arts Building on the University of Missouri–Columbia campus
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.