Composition & Songwriting










The NYSSMA Composition & Songwriting Committee is holding three calls for student music creators—Student Composers, Electronic Music, and Songwriters!
Student creators will receive a written evaluation of their music. Each submitted work will also be considered for inclusion in one of three concerts at the All-State Winter Conference in Rochester. Student creators will also participate in coaching workshops and a post-concert discussion.

2024 Applications

Applications close June 9, 2024.

Send any questions to Dr. Rob Deemer at

Composition and Songwriting Committee

  • Austin Day, (Sleepy Hollow High School) 
  • Dr. Rob Deemer, chair (State University of New York at Fredonia)
  • Dr. Daniel Deutsch, past chair (Stony Brook, NY)
  • John Fischer (Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School)
  • Dr. Emily Pinkerton (The College at St. Rose)
  • Dr. Stephen Shewan (Williamsville, NY)
  • Michael Vertoske (Williamsville South High School)
  • Brian Zeller (Scarsdale High School)


No child’s musical education is complete without experiences 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.

NYSSMA established the Composition/Improvisation Committee in 1999 in order to assist teachers and students explore the wonders of music composition and improvisation. The committee was renamed the Composition & Songwriting Committee in 2022 to better reflect the breadth of student work it oversees. The committee conducts an annual 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.

Composition Assessment and Feedback

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

To learn more about the NYSSMA composition evaluation program, please read this School Music News article by Dr. Dan Deutsch.

Winter Conference Student Composition Program

Although the emphasis of our evaluation program is on feedback rather than competition, the most outstanding compositions and songs are selected for performance at the NYSSMA Winter Conference. The student composition, electronic music, and songwriting showcases have become a highlight of the Winter Conference, with many first-time attendees expressing amazement at the high level of the works. 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 prestigious awards such 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, Roshanne Etezady, Jake Runestad, and Viet Cuong. An All-State performing ensemble often performs at least one composition by the Composer-in-Residence, and the conductor and ensemble have the opportunity to work with the composer. The student composers and songwriters attend post-concert discussions following the performances as well as small-group masterclasses with professional composers and educators.

Composition & Songwriting Sessions for Educators

In addition to the student sessions mentioned above, our committee presents sessions on composing, songwriting, arranging, improvisation, and many aspects of the creative process in all styles for teachers at the annual 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.


NYSSMA was honored to welcome Vivian Fung as Composer-in-Residence for the 2022 Winter Conference!

JUNO Award-winning composer Vivian Fung has a unique talent for combining idiosyncratic textures and styles into large-scale works, reflecting her multicultural background. NPR calls her “one of today’s most eclectic composers.”  

Highlights of upcoming performances include the world premiere of Vivian Fung’s fifth String Quartet by Canada’s Lafayette String Quartet and a new piece for Houston’s ROCO; international performances of her critically-acclaimed elegy for the pandemic, Prayer; and the European premieres of A Child’s Dream of Toys and Baroque Melting. Mary Elizabeth Bowden tours her Trumpet Concerto to Philharmonia Northwest, Waynesboro Symphony, San José Chamber Orchestra. Fung is the 2023 Composer-in-Residence at Alba Music Festival Composition Program in Italy.

Fung is currently at work on a new project with soprano Andrea Nunez and Royce Vavrek, percussion works for Network for New Music and Ensemble for These Times, a piano work for the “Ligeti Etudes meets 18 Composers” commissioning project, and a commission by Cape Cod Chamber Music Society.  A portrait album featuring the Jasper Quartet in Fung’s first four string quartets will be released on Sono Luminus in 2023, and Elizabeth Bowden has recorded her Trumpet Concerto with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras for future release on Çedille Records.

Fung has a deep interest in exploring cultures through travel and research. As a composer whose trips often inspire her music, Fung has also explored diverse cultures in China, North Vietnam, Spain, and Indonesia. With a grant from the Canada Council, she and Royce Vavrek will travel to Cambodia in 2023 to continue research for a new opera based on her family’s experience surviving the Cambodian genocide. 

In 2012, Naxos Canadian Classics released a recording of Fung’s Violin Concerto [No.1], commissioned by the Metropolis Ensemble, which earned Fung the 2013 JUNO Award for “Classical Composition of the Year.”  Several of Fung’s other works have also been released commercially on the Telarc, Çedille, Innova, and Signpost labels. 

Fung is a passionate mentor for young composers, is an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre, and served on the board of the American Composers Forum. Born in Canada, Fung received her doctorate from The Juilliard School. She currently lives in California. Learn more at


2021 composer Thea Constanzo gives notes to SUNY Fredonia piano faculty Sean Duggan before his performance of her work.

23rd Annual Student Composers Honors Concert

Luminary by Emily Chang, Grade 9
Herricks Middle School, Roslyn Heights – David Stevens

The Everything by Thea Constanzo, Grade 4
Allendale Columbia School, Hemlock – Lynn Grossman

Droplets by Theodore Chang, Grade 5
Searingtown Elementary School, Roslyn Heights – David Stevens

Sonata in G Major by Benjamin Shea, Grade 11
Northport High School, Northport – Frank Doyle

Center Star by William Giegerich, Grade 12
Special Music School High School, Bronx – Matt Van Brink

Spring by Nakai Weeks, Grade 11
Red Hook High School, Tivoli – Brian Zeller

Tempest by Linden Figueroa, Grade 11
Special Music School High School, Flushing – Max Grafe

Reflection by Grace Hwang, Grade 12
Williamsville East High School, Williamsville – Stephen Shewan

Through the Window by Maler Suresh, Grade 12
Williamsville East High School, Williamsville – Stephen Shewan

Catharsis by Ebunoluwa Oguntola, Grade 11
Jamesville-DeWitt High School, Fayetteville – Daniel Blumenthal

Jazz Comp in Eb by Patrick Hines, Grade 12
Northport High School, East Northport – Frank Doyle

The composers in attendance at the 2021 Electronic Music Showcase!

26th Annual Student Electronic Music Showcase

I Love Everybody! By Madison, Asiah, Ronneil, Cliff, & Alexis, Grade 5,
PS 65, South Bronx – Raphael Torn

Mirror by Luciano Lopez-Parnetti, Grade 12
Sleepy Hollow High School, Tarrytown – Austin Day

Fast Forward Interference by Austin Chin, Grade 12
Sleepy Hollow High School, Sleepy Hollow – Austin Day

Haze by Jackson Briner, Grade 11
Northport High School, Northport – Frank Doyle

Passacaglia in F Major by Sophia Stehlik, Grade 10
West Islip High School, West Islip – David Kaufman

Beginners Luck by Henry Roffman, Grade 12
Mamaroneck High School, Larchmont – Elyse Gellert Mullen

No Name, No Reason by Eamonn Hubert , Grade 8
Jennie F. Snapp Middle School, Endicott – Kevin Bill

The Electronic Jam by Robert Damast, Grade 9
Cold Spring Harbor Jr. Sr. High School, Cold Spring Harbor – Brent Chiarello

Grape Soda Demo by Adam Tobar, Grade 11
Mineola High School, Mineola – Joseph Owens

Winter by Petra Roberts, Grade 12
Lynbrook High School, Lynbrook – Timothy Waldvogel

Four of our 2021 NYSSMA songwriters—Sophia Orensteen, Olivia Martens, Sascha Harris, and Ava Delia Pietra!

1st Annual Student Songwriters Honors Concert

Optimist by Ava Della Pietra, Grade 11
Ward Melville High School, Old Field – Jason Chapman

Paramedics by Olivia Martens, Grade 11
Red Hook High School, Red Hook – Brian Zeller

Better Without You by Sascha Harris, Grade 10
Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, NYC – John Fischer

My Dream by Kazmirah Jamroz, Grade 5
Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary, Newburgh – Kathleen Bowling

Haze by Sophia Orensteen, Grade 10
Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, NYC – Kary Haddad

Moon by Ava Della Pietra, Grade 11
Ward Melville High School, Old Field – Jason Chapman

Wouldn’t Have to Fear by Ben Kolitch , Grade 11
Columbia Grammar and Prep School, NYC – John Fischer

Valentine by Sophia Orensteen, Grade 10
Columbia Grammar and Prep School, NYC – Kary Haddad

half a heart by Alexa Valentino , Grade 12
Northport High School, Northport – Frank Doyle

Wings by Amanda Swickle, Grade 11
Jericho High School, Jericho – Michael Blutman

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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