Eighth grade student wins music composition award
John Ragland, 14, an eighth grade student at Lawn Avenue School, has won the Music Educator's National Conference Eastern Division Young Composer's Contest with "Spring Forth," his original composition for piano.
The winning composition was played by Sam Hollister, a talented pianist and fellow Lawn Avenue student, as part of the MENC's Young Composer's Concert last Friday at the Rhode Island Convention Center.
Ragland, a largely self-taught composer, used the computer program Notation Composer to create the sheet music for "Spring Forth." Music teachers Karyn Kauffman and Marilyn Hostetler introduced Hollister and Ragland and the musical collaboration began.
Hollister first performed "Spring Forth," during last year's Lawn Avenue School band concert where, according to Kauffman, the performance was "a big hit." Kauffman then saw the Young Composer's Contest advertised in an e-mail she received from the Rhode Island Music Educator's Association and suggested that Ragland submit "Spring Forth" for consideration.
Ragland said that he was surprised to hear that his piece had won the competition, but both Hollister and Kauffman said they were not surprised by the win. "We've worked a little bit on composition and improvisation here at school," Kauffman said, "but John has a talent way beyond that." She called Ragland a "natural talent."
Kauffman also described Hollister as a "gifted musician." "Sam is an incredible, beautiful pianist for a seventh grade student," she said.
Hollister said that he began to take private piano lessons almost seven years ago and has been studying with University of Rhode Island music teacher Manabu Takasawa for the last five years.
Both boys said that they come from musical families and that both of their father's play or have played various instruments. Hollister said that his father used to play the trumpet and now plays piano and that his mother also played "a little bit." Ragland said that his father plays guitar and that he started playing guitar with his cousin some twenty years ago. "They played together in a band for a while," Ragland said.
Although neither of the boys is sure what kind of career path they would like to follow musically, at this point, both are hopeful that music will continue to be a part of their future. "I want to be a musician," Hollister said. He also said he might like to pursue a career as a conductor, but felt that might be unlikely because there are so few professional conductors. Kauffman encouraged him not to give up on the idea so quickly. In any case, Hollister intends to pursue a formal education in music. "I went to Pennsylvania for a piano competition earlier this year and visited Curtis Music Institute," Hollister said. He described the institute as "very serious about music," and said that he might like to attend the institute, which he described as a "very prestigious school." Once again Hollister was somewhat self-deprecating as he described this desire as "a little presumptuous." Kauffman again encouraged Hollister to reach high.
Ragland was a bit less focused on exactly what he'd like to pursue musically in the future, but he had some ideas about what he thought might be enjoyable. "I want to be in a band at some point," he said. He went on to say, somewhat tongue in cheek, "I might pursue some kind of formal education if I'm not too busy touring." When asked what kind of band he'd like to play in, Ragland responded with a big smile, "a rock band."