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It’s a wrap on year 1 of my residence!

I came to Champaign-Urbana twice in April, and after a flurry of activities, my first year of being Composer-in-Residence with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra is now complete! It has been a very exciting year, filled with great experiences in a range of places throughout the Champaign-Urbana region. What did I do during the year?

CUSO brass members & me at our Legends of Olympus education program at Lincoln Trail Elementary School.

I visited lots of schools and organizations.

  • 6 elementary and middle schools: CUSO brass and I ran an education session that taught students about the building blocks of music. The students heard the brass quintet play portions of my piece Legends of Olympus; then we talked about what elements are in a composer’s toolbox (melody, rhythm, silence, etc.). Next, they helped me compose a new movement about the Greek goddess Nike, which the quintet premiered at the end of the session. We visited Urbana Middle School, Westview Elementary School, Stratton Academy of the Arts, International Preparatory Academy, Dr. Preston Williams, Jr. Elementary School, and Lincoln Trail Elementary School.


The CUSO brass quintet premiered Nike while I conduct the performers through our score.

  • 3 high schools: I did a range of activities at the high schools. At St. Joseph Ogden High School, I gave sessions on how a composer composes and music business basics. At Urbana High School, I shared my composing process for my choral piece Give Me Hunger, as well as listened & gave feedback to choirs on their singing. At Champaign Central High School, I helped 170 marching band students learn about music basics, then constructed a group piece with their input for us to perform.


  • 3 colleges: I visited the University of Illinois, Illinois State University, and Illinois Wesleyan University. At each school, I taught composition lessons and gave seminars on various topics (some about the music business, some on my own music, and one for the freshman class at ISU in how to get themselves prepared to make the most of their college experience). I also coached student musicians at all three universities who were learning my works. Each school also incorporated pieces of mine in their concert seasons.


Demonstrating how I composed “Give Me Hunger” at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

  • 3 visits to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Champaign: Two of these visits were in correlation to the upcoming CUSO concerts, so I introduced my pieces that were to be performed. At the third, I gave a 90-minute presentation on how a composer composes music when writing for the voice.


  • 2 visits to local organizations: I stopped by the Cunningham Children’s Home and the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, where I helped the participants learn about the creative process. At each location, we created compositions using graphic notation (i.e. shapes and words to reflect the types of sounds we should make).


CUSO and I ran a mentoring program for local composers.

  • CUSO Overture Composition Competition and Reading Session: Stephen and I ran a competition for composers of any age to submit 3-minute overtures, written for orchestra. We selected five compositions from the entries, and had the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra rehearse these in a working session for the composers to hear their works. This event was open to the public. I started by interviewing each composer about his/her work, then Stephen led the orchestra in a rehearsal of the piece. Halfway through the event, we held a question & answer session with Stephen, the five composers, myself, and the audience so they could ask us anything about what they were seeing and hearing. We used microphones throughout the event so the audience could hear how Stephen, the composers, and I were fine-tuning the pieces during the reading process. Two of our participants, Roger Zare and Maya Benyas, were selected to have their overtures performed by CUSO on their subscription series in Krannert in April 2019.

With our five chosen composers at the CUSO Overture Composition Competition reading session.


Most exciting of all, CUSO performed my works.

  • CUSO Chamber Concert: This event kicked off my residence last September. CUSO musicians played my Legends of Olympus (brass quintet) and Athena Triumphant (string quartet); additionally, soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg and maestro/pianist Stephen Alltop performed my We Real Cool and Dawn.


  • Performances with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra in their Krannert Concert Series: It was such a treat to hear CUSO perform movements from my Mythology Symphony in Foellinger Great Hall! What spectacular playing, matched by spectacular acoustics!


Onstage with CUSO in April, introducing my work Becoming Medusa.

  • Annual CUSO Youth Concerts: In April, Stephen and the orchestra performed my Blurrr in Krannert for students who came from all over the region.


What’s next? 

It has been a very busy and fulfilling year. For my second and last year with CUSO, I am heading out in new directions. What will I be up to? You’ll find out soon! I’ll post again in June with the first activity of my second and final year of the residence.

With Maestro Stephen Alltop and Executive Gerri Kirchner after the final CUSO concert.

Thank you!

Thank you so much to everyone that helped my first year be a smashing success!! Stephen Alltop, Gerri Kirchner, Matthew Wilshire, Alex McHattie, Barbara and Ron Hedlund, Darrell Hoemann, CUSO musicians, and all of the Champaign-Urbana community members and volunteers — I couldn’t have done this without you. Have a fantastic spring & summer!