Community College Composers Debut Award-Winning Music

May 15, 2017

A time limit. A saxophone quartet. And a blank sheet of paper. Three young composers recently took advantage of the opportunity to present their creations at the annual Jack Stone Award for New Music Concert, sponsored by the Alamo Colleges District's Northwest Vista College. The diverse sounds were brought to life by the Austin-based Bel Cuore Quartet, who reveled in the opportunity to debut new music to an appreciative audience on Tuesday, March 28.

The competition is unique for its focus on community college students. Beth May, a former NVC professor who still oversees the project, began the Jack Stone Awards in 2010 to encourage community college students’ budding interest in competition, and provide them a level playing field where they’re not competing with graduate or doctoral students.

You wouldn’t know it from listening to the compositions, though. All three student composers’ pieces were engaging and inventive, and Bel Cuore’s energetic performance really brought them to life.

First place: Sam Rainey, “NYC Traffic Jam”

Sam Rainey is a student at North Idaho College, and said he was thinking a little bit about Leonard Bernstein and his musical depictions of New York as he wrote his piece, although ultimately, “the title is less important than the piece itself.” Rainey said he looks forward to writing jazz combo charts in the future, and moving to a big city after leaving college.

Second place: Peter Fitzgerald, “A Final Goodbye”

Although the music springs from a dark place, Peter Fitzgerald’s work ultimately has a happy ending, as he explained: “During my senior year [of high school], and up until recently, I struggled with depression and anxiety, so that’s kind of the back-and-forth that’s happening between each section [of the piece]. Then in the end, it releases on this happy note. Everything just relaxes, and that’s kind of like the ‘goodbye’ to that struggle.” Fitzgerald said he began writing music in high school at the encouragement of his teacher. After leaving Schenectady Country Community College, he hopes to continue his education and eventually become a teacher himself, and compose on the side.

Third place: John Carroll, “Sketch of a Figure Skater”

Like his colleague Peter Fitzgerald, John Carroll is also a student at Schenectady Country Community College. The title of his piece begs the question, who is the figure skater? As it turns out, the figure skater is his girlfriend Stephanie, and the piece was written as a Valentine’s Day present for her. “I called it sketch of a figure skater because the concept behind it was the image of someone dancing in a wintry landscape that’s currently my home,” Carroll said, explaining his girlfriend also has a lot of background in dance and ballet. Her reaction upon learning of its creation? “She was giggly, and happy, and cuddly,” Carroll said with a smile.

Carroll said that in the future he hopes to be able to write more classical music for his primary instrument, electric guitar.

You can hear the entire Jack Stone Award concert, including more from the Bel Cuore Quartet, on Saturday, May 20 at 7 p.m. on KPAC 88.3 FM.