New Music Ensemble to host annual student composer competition

GVL / Sara Carte - Music Director, Bill Ryan, speaks about the music at the New Music Ensemble Student Competition in the Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016.

GVL / Sara Carte – Music Director, Bill Ryan, speaks about the music at the New Music Ensemble Student Competition in the Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016.

Arie Nienhuis

Grand Valley State University has a talented student body. In the realms of art, drama, writing and music, GVSU students have shown significant degrees of creativity, inspiration and potential, and the GVSU New Music Ensemble has been an example of this. 

The New Music Ensemble has allowed undergraduate musicians to gain experience and show their work since 2006. The group both performs and records contemporary music and provides students with the opportunity to compose original works. Soon, the ensemble will be holding its annual student composers competition.

The competition will present a number of 60-second student compositions inspired by a recent Art Gallery exhibition. The pieces will be judged by a jury, and cash prizes will be presented to the winning compositions. There will also be a prize for the audience favorite. 

Margaret Hawley-Lowry, a GVSU student who will be participating in the competition, has only been composing for a few months, yet she has had a great time putting together the music.

“It was interesting to consider ways to connect the music to the paintings,” Hawley-Lowry said via email. “For example, notes could correspond to colors, vibrancy to dynamics, and layers to texture in the music. I enjoy the competition because it is a fun and unique challenge.”

Another student competitor, Nicole Herman, enjoys the composition process just as much, focusing on the interaction the composer has with each musician.

“I’m finding what I really love about the creative process is that interaction with the audience, the performer or, if I’m the performer, with people interacting with me,” Herman said. “I really love getting to know the performers I’m working with and taking into account things that they want out of a work.”

Hawley-Lowry is uncertain about her biggest inspiration because she is so new to composition, but she expressed a variety of factors she considers when putting music together, from the relation of sound to color to the exploration.

“I have synesthesia, so sound and color have a link,” Herman said. “Sometimes I’ll pick a piece of art and draw from that and try to write something that sounds like how it looks to me. It’s fun to just mess around with sound, and it is fun to give musicians the liberty to (be) themselves.”

In terms of advice for student musicians, both Hawley-Lowry and Herman gave some tips to students who are already exploring composition, as well as those hoping to get into the craft.

“As for advice, write what you want to and be proud of it regardless of what others say,” Hawley-Lowry said. “If you’re sharing something meaningful to you, eventually you’ll find (others) who appreciate it as it is.”

Herman suggested that students just start working and see where it takes them. 

“Just go for it,” Herman said. “I get stuck a lot at the beginning because there’s no many possibilities. Giving yourself parameters in which to work is really important. And don’t be afraid to make weird noises.”

The competition will take place Thursday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 1121 of the Haas Center for Performing Arts. More information can be found at