The NYSSMA Composition/Improvisation Program

2016 NYSSMA Call for Compositions – Deadline June 3, 2016

Composition and Improvisation Standards

No child’s musical education is complete without experience in composition and improvisation. These two closely related areas are included in the national and state standards because they are the creative source of music itself. When we teach composition to our students, we invite them into the inner world of music. They begin to realize the many choices that composers face, and they become more aware of the intentionality of music. As students actively use the elements of music to express their own musical ideas, they become much more fluent in the language of music. Just as a language arts program must entail reading and writing, a full music education program requires performance and composition.

In order to help New York State’s teachers and students implement the composition and improvisation standards, NYSSMA established the Music Composition/Improvisation Committee in 1999. The committee conducts a statewide student composition assessment program, presents educational sessions for teachers at NYSSMA conferences, provides articles for School Music News, mentors teachers informally, and offers other resources on its webpage:

The current Composition/Improvisation Committee includes:

  • Dr. Rob Deemer, chair (State University of New York at Fredonia)
  • Dr. Daniel Deutsch, past chair (Stony Brook, NY)
  • Dr. Daniel Ott (Juilliard and Fordham University)
  • Dr. Patricia Riley (University of Vermont)
  • Dr. Margaret Schedel (Stony Brook University)
  • Dr. Stephen Shewan (Williamsville East High School)
  • Dr. Janice Smith (Queens College, City University of New York)
  • Brian Zeller (Red Hook High School)

Composition Assessment and Feedback

Every year, NYSSMA provides composition assessment and feedback through its Call for Compositions. The Call for Compositions is not a competition, but rather an opportunity for a large number of students to receive personal feedback about their compositions. The compositions are reviewed by a panel of professional composers, and each student receives an encouraging written evaluation of his/her piece. The adjudicators highlight strong points and make positive suggestions for future growth. 

Winter Conference Student Composition Program

Although the emphasis of our evaluation program is on feedback rather than competition, the most outstanding compositions are selected for performance at the NYSSMA Winter Conference. The student composition concerts have become a highlight of the Winter Conference, with many first-time attendees expressing amazement at the high level of the compositions. Indeed, many NYSSMA student composers have gone on to pursue their studies at institutions like Eastman, Juilliard, the Manhattan School of Music, the University of Michigan, Yale, and Harvard. They have won such prestigious awards as the ASCAP Morton Gould Student Composer Award and the BMI Student Composer Award.

Each Winter Conference features a prominent Composer-in-Residence who works with the student composers and conference attendees. Past Composers-in-Residence have been William Bolcom, Morton Subotnick, Tania Leon, Joseph Schwantner, R. Murray Schafer, Libby Larsen, Steven Bryant, Paul Moravec, Joan Tower, Chen Yi, Kevin Puts,  Stephen Paulus, Christopher Theofanidis, Alex Shapiro, and Abbie Betinis. The student composers and interested teachers attend the Young Composer Seminar with the Composer-in-Residence, and also the Composition Coaching Workshops, which are small-group master classes in composition with professional composers and educators. An All-State performing ensemble usually performs a composition by the Composer-in-Residence, and the conductor and ensemble have the opportunity to work with the composer. 

Composition/Improvisation Sessions for Educators

In addition to the student composition sessions mentioned above, our committee presents sessions on composition and improvisation (both jazz and non-jazz) for teachers at the Winter Conference. We seek to present clinicians of the highest caliber, with the aim of providing teaching strategies and techniques that teachers can implement immediately.

2016 NYSSMA Call for Compositions – Deadline June 3, 2016

2015 Winter Conference Composition & Improvisation Events

All-State Mixed Chorus Conductor Dr. Sandra Snow and Composer-in-Residence Abbie Betinis

All-State Mixed Chorus Conductor Dr. Sandra Snow and Composer-in-Residence Abbie Betinis

NYSSMA was delighted to welcome Abbie Betinis as Composer-in-Residence for the 2015 Winter Conference. Composer Abbie Betinis (b.1980) writes music called “inventive, richly melodic” (The New York Times) and “superb… whirling, soaring” (Tacoma News Tribune). A recent McKnight Artist Fellow, and listed in NPR Music’s “100 Composers Under Forty,” she has written over 50 commissioned pieces and has been composer-in-residence with The Schubert Club, The Rose Ensemble and The Singers–Minnesota Choral Artists. She lives in Minnesota, where she is adjunct professor of composition at Concordia University-St Paul.

Ms. Betinis taught award-winning NYSSMA Young Composers in a Composition Coaching Workshop and at a very imaginative Young Composer Seminar at the Winter Conference.

Both New York All-State Choruses  performed compositions by Ms. Betinis at their concerts in Kodak Theatre.  She visited rehearsals of both choruses to work with the conductors and student singers.

Results of the 2015 Call for Compositions

The Music Composition/Improvisation Committee received 115 pieces in response to the 2015 Call for Compositions. Each student composer received a written evaluation of his or her composition. Evaluations were written by Dr. Rob Deemer, Dr. Daniel Deutsch, Frank Doyle, Dr. Mark Filsinger, J. Peter Hansen, Steve Kessler, Matt Lovell, Dr. Daniel Ott, Dr. Stephen Shewan, Dr. Alden Snell II, and Brian Zeller.

Professors Rob Deemer, Herbert A. Deutsch, and Daniel Ott selected 12 outstanding student compositions that were performed at the 17th Annual NYSSMA Young Composer Honors Concert at the All-State Winter Conference on Friday, December 4, 2015 at 1:15 PM in the Lilac Ballroom of the Rochester Convention Center.

The Honors Composers participated in a special Young Composer Seminar with Composer-in-Residence Abbie Betinis; and in Composition Coaching Workshops with clinicians Abbie Betinis, Dr. Rob Deemer, Dr. Daniel Deutsch, Herbert Deutsch, Frank Doyle, Dr. Mark Filsinger, J. Peter Hansen, Dr. Patricia Riley, Dr. Stephen Shewan, and Brian Zeller.

2015 NYSSMA Honors Compositions:

Harleigh Awner: Morning
Grade 12, Williamsville East High School, E. Amherst

Mackenzie Brooks: Beati
Grade 12, Fairport High School, Fairport

Sajani Clerk: The Grandfather Clock
Grade 12, Williamsville East High School, E. Amherst

Owen Cummings: Song of an Ocean
Grade 9, Ithaca High School, Ithaca

Olivia Galante: 1862
Grade 12, Northport High School, Northport

Abe Gold: Piano Trio No. 1
Grade 9, Hunter College High School, New York

Dominika Homa: Rain
Grade 6, Gananda Middle School, Walworth

Leona Liu: String Quartet No. 1
Grade 7, Robert E. Bell Middle School, Chappaqua

Jon Madden: Weep You No More
Grade 12, Fairport High School, Fairport

Peter Giulio Mainetti: The Song of the Mischievous Dog
Grade 9, Northport High School, Northport

Nicholas J. Politi: February Springtime
Grade 12, Scarsdale High School, Scarsdale

Caroline Xiong: Dream Never Cold
Grade 4, P.S. 188 Q, Queens

Teacher-sponsors of winning compositions:
Laura Abbatantuono, Frank Doyle, Dr. James Jefferis, Robert Laird, Mark Lewis, Vivan Fang Liu, Dr. Stephen Shewan, Michael Stratechuk, and Dr. Matt Van Brink

Honorable Mention
In the evaluation process, four additional composers achieved the distinction of Honorable Mention. Their compositions received more than one review and were serious contenders for inclusion in the Honors Concert.

The following student composers received Honorable Mention:
Connie An, Antonia Bentel, Alexander Hamilton, Natalie Olivieri, and Aleksandra Ratnikova.

Teacher-Sponsors of Honorable Mention Compositions:
Frank Doyle, William Larrabee, Dr. Stephen Shewan, Rebekah Yahoves, and Brian Zeller.

Watch the 2013 New York All-State String Orchestra play a movement of Christopher Theofanidis’s Visions and Miracles, conducted by David Hagy.

If you have any questions regarding NYSSMA’s composition programs, please contact Dr. Rob Deemer at 

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