Trains and Traffic Inspire SFCA New Voices Project 2020 Winners

Jun 8, 2020

Introducing two bright, young composers — the co-winners of our New Voices Project competition. Do you miss zooming through landscape? Or even sitting in traffic? These works explore both with style and flair.

by Emily Szerdy, SFCA Guest Writer

Despite the cancellation of our June concert set, Boats & Trains & Flying Machines, we are committed to our mission to promote and foster the next generation of choral composers in the United States. This set was to have included the world premiere of the winning piece from this year’s New Voices Project – our annual competition for composers under the age of 30.

Artistic Director Magen Solomon has chosen two winners this year: Peyton Trowbridge (19) for his In the Train, and Cole Reyes (21) for Industrial Nocturne. “Though we will be unable to perform them in June, we hope to be able to offer them to you as soon as we can,” Solomon says. “This competition, for composers under 30, and now in it’s 16th year, is one of the many ways we express our mission to foster and promote the next generation’s composers of choral music.”

Not being able to perform these pieces this season is one of many tragic setbacks to the world of new choral music, but in the meantime, we are pleased to be able to introduce these two promising young composers.

Peyton Trowbridge: In the Train

Peyton Trowbridge is currently finishing his sophomore year studying Music Composition at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Throughout high school, he was involved in choir and became more emotionally invested in his junior year. The music that he sang in choir, mainly contemporary choral music, inspired Trowbridge to begin writing his own pieces.

Trowbridge’s winning piece In the Train is a setting of James Thomson’s poem of the same title. In describing his approach to setting this poem, Trowbridge states that he “saw the poem as a metaphor for life” and that the people on the train “are in a hurry to reach their goal.” This uplifting, goal-oriented poem inspired a more “upbeat and happy sound within the music,” in contrast to Trowbridge’s usually slower and smoother compositions.

Constrained by the timeframe and thematic requirements of this competition, Trowbridge says that he has “grown a new branch” and delved into another compositional method: using the text to build the music. He learned that he had to find a text that was already inherently musical – a challenge in itself – and then, use the music to express the deeper meaning of the text.

“Overall, my goal is to spread love and happiness through my music and through my actions.”

— Peyton Trowbridge

Cole Reyes: Industrial Nocturne

“In the end, my passion is sharing music with other people and using it as a catalyst for connection and change.”

— Cole Reyes

Cole Reyes, a Chicago native, attended Washington University in St. Louis, where he studied Music Composition with Dr. Christopher Stark and Dr. L. J. White. He graduated with a degree in Mathematics, and plans to attend New York University in the fall for a Master’s Degree in Music Theory and Composition, specializing in Concert Music Composition.

Reyes has always had an interest in composing. As a child, he would listen to classical music and wonder how he could write music that elicited emotional responses like that of the masters, namely Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. As he continued his musical development, he learned to improvise on the piano and eventually wrote that music down. Ever since, he has known that he wanted to compose for the rest of his life.

Reyes’ winning piece Industrial Nocturne is a setting of his own text – “a musing on traffic.” He decided to write his own text because poetry about modern transportation is just that: modern. Rather than grapple with the issues around permission to use a living poet’s work, Reyes knew that he would be able to effectively communicate a musical message based on text that he wrote. The experience of setting his own text opened a new world for Reyes. “It gives a sense of purpose for the communication of the message, when otherwise there can be a disconnect between composer and poet.”

Looking Ahead

Of course, these pieces do not make up the entirety of these young composers’ careers. Although the pandemic has thrown a wrench into just about every plan for the near future, both Trowbridge and Reyes are staying busy and, naturally, creating as much music as possible.

Trowbridge is currently working on a piece that will be a gift for his high school choir director, one of the people who inspired him to start writing music. This is another “new branch” for Trowbridge, as it is his first piece that will include a piano accompaniment.

Reyes is currently writing a piece for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano which will be performed by the Unheard-of//Ensemble in New York City. Although not very accustomed to this particular grouping of instruments, he is excited and optimistic about the end product.

While short-term plans are up in the air, both Trowbridge and Reyes have big plans for the future. Asked where they see themselves ten years from now, both composers, of course, fully intend to continue their musical careers. Trowbridge plans to continue composing and publishing choral music, and he hopes to be involved with local choirs and commissioned projects for high school and college choirs. He would also like to teach vocal skills to young singers.

Reyes, on the other hand, is on track to becoming a professor of composition. Of course, he will continue to compose for choir as well as chamber ensembles and orchestras, and potentially experiment with electronic music. Naturally, the end goal of both composers is to continue creating and sharing music with as many people as possible.

These days of quarantine and uncertainty are a unique time to create art. Both Trowbridge and Reyes are using their free time to continue to immerse themselves in music. Composing, playing, and listening to music are all vital to staying sane in these trying times, particularly for these young, passionate musicians.

Emily Szerdy is a senior at Lewis & Clark College studying Vocal Performance and International Affairs.