For Young Composers, Northwest Vista College's Competition Is The 'Boost They Need'

Mar 26, 2017

In 2010, Beth May was teaching music at Alamo Colleges' Northwest Vista College and had some gifted students taking music theory. She wanted to encourage their budding interest in composition, but found that most all of the nationwide composer competitions were open to students of all skill levels, which could potentially pit community college students against a Ph.D. candidate. It wasn’t exactly a level playing field.

“I felt like my students had a different background. A lot of them didn’t have the same advantages,” May said, noting that her students weren’t necessarily the ones that had been taking lessons since age five. “It was going to be really hard for them to compete.”

So May established the Jack Stone Award competition that year, open exclusively to community college students. The award is named for Jack Stone, a former college administrator and Ph.D. in music who passed away in 2007. “He was a firm believer in community college programs,” May observed. May is now the head of the music department at Centralia College, but she still coordinates the Jack Stone Award for NVC, which is judged by members of the Composers Alliance of San Antonio.

Each year, students from around the country enter the competition, and although the awards are modest, “the biggest prize is that they get to come out and hear their work performed by professionals,” said May. This year, the Austin-based Bel Cuore Saxophone Quartet is the featured ensemble who will be performing all three of the winning entries at a free concert on Tuesday, March 28 in the Recital Hall at Northwest Vista’s Palmetto Center for the Arts.

The winners have already been chosen, and 20-year-old Sam Rainey, a student at North Idaho College, will be awarded first place for his piece called “NYC Traffic Jam.” Rainey, along with the second and third place winners, is being flown to San Antonio for the premiere. May said that’s another bonus for the young composers, to meet their peers. “These students stay up until 3:00 in the morning talking about music, and they become lifelong friends. In the field of music, it’s important to have a network.”

Past winners of the Jack Stone Award have gone on to study in Europe, work on film scores, and of course continue their education in graduate school. One former winner even premiered a piece at Lincoln Center. Winning the Jack Stone Award, May explained, gives these community college students the “boost they really need to get inspired.”

Find details about the Jack Stone Award concert online at NVC's website. You can hear last year's winning compositions in the audio link below.