Kamiak grad wins new music award

By Sara Bruestle | May 09, 2012
Calvin Hanson, of Mukilteo, recently won a national musical-score contest for community college students.

It all started with a piano scale.

Calvin Hanson, 20, of Mukilteo, is the winner of the third annual Community College Musical Competition, a musical-score contest for community college students – and the only national competition of its kind.

His composition was one of three pieces selected from across the United States to be performed at a concert on April 24 at Northwest Vista College.

Hanson’s piece, “The Abyss,” was written for an upright bass, clarinet and piano. It has three movements and is seven minutes long.

“It was kind of shocking,” Hanson said of winning. “Since it was a national competition, I didn’t really expect to win first place.”

“The Abyss” is a strange, eerie piece that portrays the haunting descent into insanity.

The tension intensifies throughout the three movements. At times, it sounds like the musical score for scenes from a horror film.

Adding to the eeriness, Hanson instructs the performers of the piece to use inanimate objects to make odd sounds; he has the pianist run a pop bottle up and down the piano strings.

As the winner, Hanson received the Jack Stone Award for new music and the first-place cash prize of $150. He also attended a master’s class with the professional musicians who performed his piece.

The April 24 concert was the first time Hanson heard his piece with all three parts.

“It’s something to hear it in your head, but it’s totally different to hear it in real life,” he said. “Or other people’s interpretation of it, at least.”

About 15 students entered the competition this year. They were required to write an original musical score that was less than 10 minutes long for an upright bass, with optional clarinet and piano parts.

A panel of judges – all composers from San Antonio – selected the first, second and third place winners of the contest. Hanson’s piece was, hands down, the judges’ favorite.

“The judges were very impressed with his piece,” said contest founder Beth May. “His piece was pretty much the unanimous favorite.”

May, a music instructor at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, founded the contest in 2010.

"There’s a lot of calls for scores for student composers, but they are not limited to community college students,” May said. “I felt like they needed to have their own competition."

Hanson, a 2009 Kamiak High School grad, is now a student at Edmonds Community College where he is taking music composition classes.

He has written about six original compositions since graduating from Kamiak, including “The Abyss.” He plans to major in composition once he transfers to a university.

“I really enjoy writing music, and would like to further that in my career,” he said. “I would like to teach as well as compose.”

He likes to start composing by playing a scale on the piano.

“The more I play with it (the scale), the more ideas I get,” he said. “I start writing from there.”

It took Hanson about two months to write “The Abyss.” He met with his composition instructor once a week to review what he’d written of his piece.

He added parts for a bass and clarinet, looking at pieces by historical composers such as Stravinsky, Bartók and Schoenberg to get ideas.

His instructor, Nick Sibicky, was not surprised Hanson took first place.

“It’s a great piece,” Sibicky said. “Calvin is quite creative, and he certainly put in the hard work and the effort. It’s well deserved.

“Calvin has a whole career ahead of him, and I hope this is a great starting place. This award is certainly recognition of that skill and talent that he has.”

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