The Composers’ Symposium, initiated in September 2019, is one of the activities of the Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival. The Festival’s Composers’ Symposium is conducted in collaboration with the Oregon Music Educators Association (OMEA). The Symposium is a unique opportunity for high school students to submit an original composition, refine his/her work, receive instruction from professional composers and have the work performed.

The aim of the Composers’ Symposium is to provide education opportunities for talented music students by serving as a resource for networking, professional development, and collaboration. There is no similar opportunity in Oregon and only a handful of opportunities for instruction in music composition in Oregon high schools. Composition submissions emphasize themes associated with Newport and the Oregon coastal environment.

Small group and individual instructional seminars are held once a month.  Each session students examine areas of process, craft, orchestration (midi/acoustic) and analysis to augment their understanding and continue their development as an emerging composer.  More specifically, the goals of the sessions are to:

  1. Introduce students to a variety of compositional styles, and frameworks to advance their stylistic approach and skill level.
  2. Develop analytical skills to improve ability to understand and reconstruct building blocks of particular genres and styles.
  3. Apply and practice music creation skills in order to expand and develop original music. This includes harmony, melody, rhythmic balance, form and function in music (from a range of styles as applicable to each student).

Dr. Dana Reason is the Symposium’s clinician. She is founder and director of popular music studies at Oregon State University. She is currently the coordinator of contemporary music and research at Oregon State University.

Dr. Reason holds a bachelor’s degree in music from McGill University; a master’s  degree in composition from Mills College and a doctoral degree in critical studies/experimental practices (now called integrative studies) from the University of California San Diego. She was the founder and director of popular music studies at Oregon State University (OSU) from 2011 to 2015 and is currently the coordinator of contemporary music and research at OSU.

A composer, improviser, keyboardist, sound artist, producer and researcher working at the intersections of 20th- and 21st-century music genres and intermedia practices, Dr. Reason’s album Angle of Vision was long-listed for Grammy Awards in three separate categories including best instrumental composition, best arrangement and best jazz instrumental album. Additionally, her wind symphony “Currents” was long-listed for best contemporary classical composition. Dr. Reason is a performing artist and composer that moves easily between genres encompassing a dynamic stylistic range and repertoire.

2020-21 Composers’ Symposium

Listen here to excerpts from the compositions created by the high school students participating in the 2020-21 Composers’ Symposium led by Dr. Dana Reason. The students are from McKay High School (Salem-Keizer), Molalla River High School, Roseburg High School, Sandy High School, Sheldon High School (Eugene), and West Linn High School. Each excerpt is accompanied by a short program note and a short bio statement from each student.

Jake Billard’s excerpt is from a piece titled “On Waning Winter Wind.” “I am currently a senior at Sandy High School, and a member of all performing arts as well as speech and debate,” says Billard. “In addition, I serve as a student council member, Choir co-president, and senior campaign member of Students Advocating for Equality. I play the French horn in my school’s varsity wind ensemble and also enjoy playing the piano. I plan on attending Oregon State University next year to study music, where I hope to continue to compose musical pieces. In life, I am generally driven by being able to make an impact on the world around me, whether that be through making people feel a certain way with my music, or social campaigning to advocate for change in my town or state.” His notes: “In Waning Winter Wind is a piece originally written for four part choir a cappella, and has since been revised to include both orchestra and choir. It was inspired by my midnight walks in late November where the air is resting delicately just above a biting cold, until the motion wrought by the passing wind pushes the chill gently over the edge of this threshold. The first section of the piece represents the starting of the wind from stillness, and with each verse becomes more frigid and harsh, moving in many individual swirling gusts. The section ends as the built tension causes the currents to synchronize, leading into the next section (the excerpt’s beginning), where the air and sky move as one while the sun begins to rise. The rise of the sun, coupled with the unified breeze, undoes the freeze left by the night until; finally, the sun breaks from behind the hills and clouds to shower the land in warmth. The lyric ‘touch of summer’ calls attention to the phenomenon that even in the darkest time of year, light can still shine just as it does in the brightest. The chorus section follows the impact of the sun’s presence as the wind begins to grow again and returns the chill of the previous night even during the day. The battle between renewing warmth and decaying cold reaches a climax at the line ‘winter of all life’ before the warmth inevitably concedes to the cold for the winter, roughly where the excerpt ends. The departed warm, synchronized wind is then personified as autumn knowing its end in the lyrics while the piece returns back to the swirling individual winds, as it began. The piece ends with a final soft unified warm breeze, as a reminder that warmth will come again when it is its time.

“The repeated phrase ‘In waning winter wind my mind drifts on’ is a metaphor drawing parallels between the wind and one’s imagination in their shared flowing nature. There is conflict and clash in both, power to create or decay. The imagination, like the wind, can be truly overwhelming at times, but always finds its way back to stillness.”

Colin Hamilton’s piece is titled “Overcome.” “I wrote ‘Overcome’ between May 2020 and April 2021,” says Hamilton. “At the time of writing this I am a junior in high school. I started music in sixth grade when I joined band, where I chose to play trumpet. When I started playing trumpet I started listening to ‘Star Wars’ soundtracks quite a bit, and my first time trying to write music was figuring out the main theme on notebook paper. I’ve since also started french horn, piano, and guitar. Now I am very fond of film music and hope to be a film composer one day, while continuing to write for live ensembles.” His notes: “‘Overcome’ was my first original wind ensemble piece following arrangements of ‘Adagio in D Minor (Sunshine)’ for concert band and ‘Hold The Line’ for marching band/pep band. It features a mix of fanfare and fantasy feelings. It’s not an easy piece to play but I hope it’ll feel rewarding by times of performance.”

Samuel Ibarra’s excerpt is titled “Elegy.” “Music has always been such a big part of my life, I honestly don’t know where I would be without it. I remember listening to songs and just entering my own little world, feeling every bit of it in my soul,” says Ibarra. “As time went on I joined more musical programs, and since then my love for music only grew. Funnily enough, it was my curiosity in music that led me to composing. And as years passed I learned how to better my craft, and to create my first piece for orchestra: ‘Kintsugi, Theme and Variations.'” His program notes: “When I first began composing a small tune came into my head, it was short and simple but left an impressionable mark on me. As time went on, I wrote other pieces but I would always come back to that small tune. Finally, after years of sitting on it,  I decided to put it to use in a new large work.”

Brian Powell’s piece is titled “Dream.” “I am a junior attending Roseburg High School,” says Powell. “My first instrument was the violin, which I began playing at the age of 4 and a half, and I continued on to learn the piano and tenor saxophone. Although I’ve been involved in music for the majority of my life, I only recently added composing to one of my many hobbies and interests including computer programming, robotics, solving varieties of puzzles, running, playing tennis, learning new things, and a variety of other random skills that may or may not be useful.

“With schools shutting down, I was able to spend more of my time improvising songs on the piano and writing out short musical ideas until I wrote my first song for band. Ever since then, I have been writing songs when I have free time, and trying to expand my musical reach to become something more powerful. I’ve done a variety of experiments to explore new styles such as imitating certain pieces by famous composers such as Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor.

“My band teacher, Mr. Hansen, my piano teacher, Mrs. Hinkle, and many of my friends have helped review my compositions and inspire more musical ideas, and I am very grateful for all the help they have provided to push me out of my comfort zone musically. ‘Dream,’ the piece I submitted for the composition contest in 2020, was my first completed full orchestra piece and also the longest piece I have written.”

His notes (read full notes here): “The composition ‘Dream’ describes an unusual, vivid dream which gradually shifts into new melodies and then circles back to the beginning. In addition, several of the musical ideas found within this piece were inspired by dreams. The main melody surfaces several times throughout the piece, but each time a little different before reaching a climax.”

Koharu Sakiyama’s piece is titled “Suite du Cirque.” A junior at West Linn High School, she has been composing since age five and currently studies with Michael Johanson. She has won third place in the 2014 Music Teachers Association of California (MTAC) Composers Today State Contest, was the winner of the 2018 OMEA State Composers Contest, received honorable mention in the 2018 National Association for Music Education Composers Competition, honorable mention in the 2020 OMEA State Composers Contest, was the Co-Champion for the 2021 OMEA State Composers Contest, and runner-up in the 2021 Hayes School of Music National Composition Contest. Koharu is also part of Fear No Music’s Young Composers Project. In addition, Koharu has been playing the violin for twelve years and currently studies with Carol Sindell. She has been a member of the Portland Youth Philharmonic for seven years and was the co-concertmaster of the Conservatory Orchestra for the 2017-18 season. She was a winner of the 2019 Monday Musical Club Scholarship Competition. Koharu has played the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument, for four years and is currently a member of the Oregon Koto Kai. She also plays alto saxophone in her high school symphonic band. Outside of music, Koharu enjoys ski racing and skis for her high school varsity team. 

Her notes (read full notes here): Suite du Cirque is a six-movement suite piece depicting a circus show, with every movement representing a different act. The opening movement introduces the circus with a light and joyful dance. As the crowd settles in, the mood somewhat darkens to set up the first act, “Tightrope.” A mysterious tone settles over the stage as the crowd watches the performers on the tightrope in anticipation. “Clown Act” follows, as the clowns enter the spotlight for a humorous act full of jokes and pranks, with the sixteenth-note motive in half steps representing their laughter. The use of various percussion instruments depicts the chaos of the clowns bumping into each other and stumbling, always followed by laughter. “Trapeze” opens with a calm and graceful tone, as two trapeze acrobats swing across the stage. A somewhat darker melody follows, as the tense excitement gradually builds up. The opening of “Wheel of Death” features a low brass melody, with open fifths in the low strings creating an open yet foreboding atmosphere as the performers enter the turning wheel. A slightly faster melody follows as the wheel begins to spin. The excitement builds as the wheel gains speed and the performers run faster… As the show comes to an end in “Finale,” all of the previous themes are highlighted while the performers from each act are brought back on stage to take a bow. The final ending depicts the conclusion of the circus with the clowns giving one final laugh.

Henry Stubbert’s piece is titled “Cloudburst.” A freshman at Sheldon High School in Eugene, he has played the piano for five years, originally under the teaching of Kami Hendrix and now with Dr. Alexander Schwarzkopf. “Cloudburst” is his first original composition, written specifically for the OMEA student contest. He plans on studying music in college in order to become a film composer. Henry entered the OMEA Student Composition Contest because he wanted a chance to share his music and hear the music that others his age were creating. His notes: This orchestral score was written over the course of five months (June 2020 – November 2020), and was inspired by the temperamental weather of Oregon. Although it is written as one movement, “Cloudburst: is split into four distinct parts: “Clouds,” “Rain,” “Storm,” and “Sun.” Like the weather of Oregon, the sections of this piece flow from one to the next smoothly, utilizing cadences to change the tone, texture and key. Throughout the piece, there are several motifs that are repeated in each section. Listen for the string line that signifies clouds, the glockenspiel that tells of rain, sharp articulations and percussion bring to mind a storm of lightning and thunder, and finally the use of warm tone and soaring strings that signals the streaming sunshine and the finale of the piece.