The NYSSMA Composition/Improvisation Program

2017 NYSSMA Call for Compositions – Deadline June 8, 2017

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. 

To learn more about the NYSSMA composition evaluation program, please read this article from School Music News.

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, Abbie Betinis, and Dan Welcher. 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.

2017 NYSSMA Call for Compositions – Deadline June 8, 2017

2016 Winter Conference Composition & Improvisation Events

NYSSMA was honored to welcome Dan Welcher as Composer-in-Residence for the 2015 Winter indexConference. In 2012, the American Academy of Arts and Letters presented to Dan Welcher an Arts and Letters Award in Music. The citation reads, in part, “As intense as it is elegant, Dan Welcher’s music takes his listeners on a surprising yet inevitable path….Every work in his wide-ranging catalogue is written with the strongest musical signature”. Born in 1948 in Rochester, New York, Dan Welcher is now one of the most-played composers of his generation. Dan Welcher holds the Lee Hage Jamail Regents Professorship in Fine Arts at the Butler School of Music (The University of Texas at Austin).Prof. Welcher taught award-winning NYSSMA Young Composers in a Composition Coaching Workshop and at a thought-provoking Young Composer Seminar at the Winter Conference.

Both New York All-State Bands performed compositions by Prof. Welcher at their concerts in Kodak Theatre.  He visited rehearsals of both bands to work with the conductors and student performers.

Results of the 2017 Call for Compositions

The Music Composition/Improvisation Committee received almost 100 compositions in response to the 2016 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, Dr. Sarah Hutchings, Melinda Kessler, Steve Kessler, Dr. Daniel Ott, Dr. Margaret Schedel, Dr. Stephen Shewan,  Dr. Andrew Martin Smith, Dr. Gregory Wannamaker, and Brian Zeller.

Committee members Rob Deemer, Daniel Deutsch, Daniel Ott, and Margaret Schedel selected 13 outstanding student compositions that were performed at the 18th Annual NYSSMA Young Composer Honors Concert at the All-State Winter Conference on Friday, December 2, 2016 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 Dan Welcher, 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.

2016 NYSSMA Honors Compositions:


Composer Leona Liu works with a string quartet from Williamsville East High School that included 2016 composers Priya Pindiprolu (viola) and Drew Cone (cello).

Drew Cone: Age
Grade 12, Williamsville East High School, Williamsville

Ellery Farbo: Clouds
Grade 10, Northport High School, Northport

Adam Kluge: Are You There?
Grade 11, Williamsville East High School, East Amherst

Leona Liu: Fog Dance
Grade 8, Robert E. Bell Middle School, Chappaqua

Peter Giullo Mainetti: 5 out of 5
Grade 10, Northport High School, East Northport

Immanuel Mellis: The Seed at Growth
Grade 12, Wellington C. Mepham High School, North Bellmore

Maureen Meosky: Apathy
Grade 10, Williamsville East High School, East Amherst

Priya Pindiprolu: Prank War
Grade 9, Transit Middle School, Williamsville

Petra Roberts: Follows You
Grade 7, Lynbrook South Middle School, Lynbrook

Sophia Stehlik: Avalanche
Grade 5, Paul J. Bellew Elementary School, West Islip

Sammy Sussman: Largo
Grade 12, Fox Lane High School, Bedford Hills

Xingsheng Wei: The Old Electric Fan
Grade 12, St. Mary High School, Hicksville

Michelle Zhang: Sonata in C Major
Grade 12, Half Hollow Hills High School West, Dix Hills

Jasper Zimmerman: uNtitled
Grade 4, Hillside Elementary School, Hastings-on-Hudson

Teacher-sponsors of winning compositions:
Laura Abbatantuono, Frank Doyle, Matthew Elliott, Rob Hartshorne, Annie Pasqua, Nicole Peragine, Karen Romeo, Dr. Steven Shewan, Eric Vivelo


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 [email protected] 

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