Eleven young composers, ranging in age from 15 to 25, have been named winners in the 55th Annual BMI Student Composer Awards. The awards were announced at a reception held May 21, 2007 at the Jumeirah Essex House Hotel in New York City hosted by BMI President and CEO Del R. Bryant, Ralph N. Jackson, President of the BMI Foundation and Director of the awards, and composer Milton Babbitt, Chairman of the awards.
Clint Needham (b. 1981, Texarkana TX) was named the winner of the William Schuman Prize, awarded to the score
judged most outstanding in the competition, for his orchestral work Earth and Green, which was featured on the American Composers Orchestra’s Underwood New Music Readings earlier this month. Gabrielle Nina Haigh (b. 1992, Cleveland OH) was named the winner of the Carlos Surinach Prize, which is awarded to the youngest winner in the competition, for her orchestral work Poème-Rituel. Ms. Haigh is the daughter of Scott Haigh, a double bassist for the Cleveland Orchestra, and composer Margaret Griebling-Haigh, who was a recipient of the same award in 1975. (Please see below for a brief conversation with mother and daughter composers as well as grandparents Mary Ann and Stephen T. Griebling, who are also composers.)
Additional awards were presented to: Sebastian Chang (b. 1988), for his percussion quartet W.A.R. — Welcome A Reality; Bryan Christian (b. 1984), for The Lake, -To- for solo violin, alto flute, bass clarinet, percussion, and double bass; Eric Guinivan (b. 1984), for A Shade of Grey for flute and chamber orchestra; Aaron Holloway-Nahum (b. 1983), for Night Mist for chamber orchestra; Shawn Jaeger (b. 1985), for Prelude and Fugue for solo violin; Otto Muller (b. 1981), for Vocis Secundae for bass flute, B-flat clarinet, viola, cello, and percussion; Matthew Peterson (b. 1984), for the chamber opera The Binding of Isaac; Nathan Shields (b. 1983), for Music for Piano, Winds and Percussion; and Roger Zare (b. 1985), for his orchestral work Green Flash. This year’s awards included a total of $20,000 in cash for the 11 composers.
According to BMI, more than 400 manuscripts were submitted from throughout the Western Hemisphere for consideration in this year’s competition. Following the competition’s guidelines, all scores are submitted and judged under pseudonyms. The jury members for the 2007 BMI Student Composer Awards were Richard Danielpour, David Dzubay, Christopher Rouse, Gunther Schuller, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. The preliminary judges were Chester Biscardi, David Leisner, and Bernadette Speech. The BMI Student Composer Awards competition is co-sponsored by BMI and the BMI Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1985 to support the creation, performance, and study of music through awards, scholarships, commissions, and grants. Foundation staff and the advisory panel serve without compensation.
Frank J. Oteri: It’s a very unusual phenomenon to have a family of five composers and for two of them to have won the BMI Student Composer Award.
Margaret Griebling-Haigh (mother): Yes, I would say that it is.
Stephen T. Griebling (grandfather): We’re very proud.
FJO: Were you the first composer in your family or are there additional generations of composers in your family that I don’t know about yet?
Mary Ann Griebling (grandmother): No, I was the first. The other night we were driving home from the Cleveland Orchestra thinking about how happy we are. Our lives are just enchanted. We’ve been married fifty years. We’ve written music since before we met each other, and it’s just a nice way that we live. We have a closely-knit family and I think it’s because we share common interests.
FJO: Often you put five composers together in a room and no one can agree on anything. Are there stylistic differences between all of you?
Stephen T. Griebling (grandfather): We all write tonally, but that’s as far as it goes. I’m the most conservative; I think there’s no question about that. I was not officially trained in music; I was a chemist and I worked for Firestone for forty years before I retired. But I’ve been composing since I was about 17. And a few pieces have been published. My first symphony was premiered by a local, small-town orchestra in Ohio, the Springfield Symphony, some years ago. I’ve had other things done by smaller orchestras and piano soloists, plus I’ve written choral pieces and a number of songs.
MAG: Our styles are different, but I think we all have a lyricism and a great deal of dependence upon melody. For adventuresomeness, it’s my older daughter whom you did not meet, Karen [Griebling], who has a doctor of musical arts in composition and is a professor of composition and strings at her college. She’s written two operas, one set to a text of Garcia Lorca and the other is a Beatrix Potter story. She was my first composition student. When she was very little, she walked to the piano, sang an F and played it. Then she used to doodle around on the piano when she was tiny. By the time she was 5, she composed eleven pieces on her own that were showcased at the Cleveland Institute of Music and she’s been off and running ever since. And then along came Margi, who was three years younger, and she wanted to keep up with it, too. For her third Christmas present to me, she ruled off music and wrote twenty tiny little pieces. I wouldn’t say they were Mozart, but they were adorable and everything was note perfect.
MGH: I studied theory and ear training and all that good stuff with mom growing up. And I composed all the way through.
STG: Both of my daughters attended Eastman. Gabrielle’s mother is quite a fine composer and she didn’t really study composition at Eastman; she studied oboe performance. She was given a scholarship in composition, but when she heard the style being taught at that point she decided she wanted to go on her own. Her only sister did get a degree in both composition and viola and then she went on to get her doctorate at the University of Texas.
MGH: I’m sort of an individualist and a rebel, I guess. I just don’t feel that composition is something you teach. If you’ve got a talent for it, you study all the peripheral things like theory and counterpoint and orchestration and as much as you can about individual instruments. And hopefully play in an orchestra if you can; I think you learn so much by doing. If you look at great composers’ scores and listen, the rest falls into place. I’m an anti-composition major kind of person.
FJO: It was interesting to read in BMI’s press release announcing the awards that Gabrielle is self-taught as a composer. But coming from a family such as yours, composing seems a by-product of nature and nurture.
MGH: I would say so.
Gabrielle Nina Haigh: That’s definitely true. I’ve grown up hearing my mother’s music and my grandparents’ music and my aunt’s music, and it has definitely influenced me. And the fact that my father plays in the orchestra, so I’ve heard a lot of orchestra concerts, and that has probably contributed to my composing as well. So I’d say this knowledge about music has really helped me.
FJO: So when did being a composer become part of your identity?
GNH: I can’t really imagine life without composing, if that’s what you’re asking. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t composing, although obviously I wasn’t in my earliest childhood. I’d certainly like to continue with it, but I don’t intend to major in it in college. Another one of my passions is classical studies, but I wouldn’t want to stop composing.
FJO: I wonder if Gabrielle’s decision not to be a composition major in college has something to do with her mother’s ideas about studying composition.
MGH: That’s her own choice. But I’m sure my philosophy has rubbed off on her some.
FJO: Considering your philosophy, it’s so interesting that you both won this award which is called the BMI Student Composer Award, which implies being a student of composition.
MGH: Well, I guess you’re a student and you’re a composer at that age. Many people aren’t studying composition, per se. Nowhere on the application does it imply that you need to be studying composition. It asks where you study music. I believe that it’s open to anybody.
FJO: But this is the first time in history that a parent and child have both won this composition, and were both the youngest winners and women. Of course it’s anonymous so they have no way of knowing any of this stuff.
MGH: We have been struck by it too. I was 14 and all the other winners were men and they all were in college. Gabi was 14 when she wrote her piece, she just turned 15, and she was the only girl and all the others were in college. When Ralph Jackson called and I told him this, he actually told me he didn’t believe me; he thought I was making it up. And then he went and looked in the archive and found the pictures!
FJO: I noticed at the BMI Award Ceremony that the score for Gabrielle’s award-winning piece, Poème-Rituel, features a quote from Homer in the original Greek, which reflects your interest in classical studies. Is this something you also learned to appreciate from your family or is this something you got interested in on your own?
GNH: That’s something that’s been independent for me, but again it’s really influenced my music a lot. So many composers have written on classical themes that it probably had some indirect effect on me.
FJO: What is the significance of the quote you included in your score?
GNH: Poème-Rituel was largely inspired by Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hearth and the moon and the wilderness. The quote is from one of the Homeric Hymns. They don’t actually know if it was written by Homer, but it is very much in the style of that time period. The piece starts out with a quiet section featuring the sounds of birds and night creatures and it progresses to the ritual part which is a dance that is fairly violent, rhythmic, and exciting. It was largely inspired by Stravinsky. And then it returns to the quieter theme. So a lot of this has to do with the various aspects of Artemis.
FJO: I know that your piece has not yet been performed. Have you had other orchestra pieces performed yet?
GNH: This is actually my first piece for orchestra.
FJO: That’s amazing that not only is this your first piece, but it wound up winning not only a BMI Student Composer Award
but also the Carlos Surinach Prize since you were the youngest winner this year. And I understand that the work will also receive an ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award later this week. With all this attention, I hope that some orchestra will perform this piece.
GNH: I hope so, too! My father works for the Cleveland Orchestra and he presented the score to the music director there who looked at it. And there’s a possibility that the youth orchestra there might give it a run through. So that could be a step toward a performance.