College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

USM Student Wins Composition Contest; Piece to be Performed in New York City

May 10, 2013

Contact: Jeanne Curran, (207) 780-4198

PORTLAND, Maine – A University of Southern Maine music student is getting a very special birthday gift next week – his prize-winning, original composition will be played on his birthday in a concert by a professional string quartet in New York City.

Roy MacNeil of Greensboro, Vt., who will turn 23 on May 15, will get to hear his original composition played by the CompCord String Quartet during the Composers Concordance “Generations III” concert at the Goddard Riverside Community Center in New York City.

MacNeil, studies violin performance at USM’s School of Music, was one of two competitors to win the composition contest, which chose one winner aged 25 or younger and another composer 65 or older. He found out last month that his string piece, “Conspiracy,” was selected as a winner, and he will attend the performance next week.

The USM senior, who plans to attend the university as a graduate student, said he was very excited when he learned he had won the competition. The experience “validates my decision to come back as a composition major,” he said, during an interview. “It’s what I intended to do, but I wasn’t sure I was good at it.”

His composition win is “sort of like a check point that I’m going down the right path,” MacNeil said. “It’s great to have something I spent so much time on and put so much thought and care into realized.”

“Roy has always been a creative and extremely talented student, but this year his ability and passion as a composer really blossomed,” said Daniel Sonenberg, associate professor and USM resident composer.

“My goal with young composers,” Sonenberg continued, “is to see exactly the kind of progress as I've seen with Roy. I love it when they find something that is uniquely theirs and run with it.”

This past January, the contemporary, New York-based quartet, Ethel, performed in Portland, but also offered a two-hour workshop during which six student pieces were performed. MacNeil’s “Conspiracy” was one of the selected student pieces.

“I was very grateful to hear how it worked,” he said. “It allowed me to see where changes needed to be made.”

The student noted, “I don’t have many pieces, but I want to keep writing, and USM is a great place to do it.” He said he especially appreciates the creative freedom he experienced at the university.

“I’ve been able to focus on the things I intend to do, and the course work asks me to be creative,” he continued, adding that he feels “like making my own challenges and creating my own expectations.”

“Conspiracy,” is a short work for two violins, a viola and a cello, lasting four minutes and 45 seconds. It is a “twisty, weird, winding thing,” with a dark beginning and bright ending, MacNeil said. Parts of it were inspired by the music of Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovich.

The student wrote it around exam time. “Writing was a sort of escape,” MacNeil recalled. “I found it was place I could go and all that work didn’t exist.”

The young composer said he likes a wide variety of music.  He loves J.S. Bach, Leoš Janáček and American composer John Adams, as well as the electronic music of The Knife and James Blake.

Looking ahead to what he wants to do in the future, MacNeil said simply, “Whatever I can do with music. I see myself doing anything, whatever I’m called for.”

The USM String Quartet will play MacNeil’s “Conspiracy,” along with the Maine premier of Sonenberg’s “Sirens of Sombor,” plus “Aria,” a piece by USM student Aaron Pettengill at the Frontiers of Music #9 concert, 7 p.m., Thursday, May 16, The Frontier Café, Brunswick. Admission is “name your price.”

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