Mini Maestro: Edwardsville student’s composition tops in competition
Song will be arranged by Kansas City Symphony professional
Jaycee Millison has been taking piano lessons since she was 7 — almost four years total — and said she has even written a few of her own songs.
“Me and my cousin do that together,” she said.
So when the Edwardsville Elementary fifth grader got the assignment to compose her own song on the recorder in Cindy Hancock’s music class, to potentially be entered in the Kansas City Symphony’s Composition Challenge, she said it was no sweat.
“It was something that I was excited about,” she said. “When I was writing that song, I was thinking about my baby cousin, Gretchen, and I wanted it to be kind of slow and like a lullaby, so maybe I could play that for her to make her go to sleep.”
Jaycee’s lullaby impressed more than just her baby cousin. Her composition, which she titled “Midnight Light,” was selected from hundreds of entries to be professionally arranged and performed by students attending the symphony’s Link-Up Concert field trips in April.
Hancock said this is the first year that the symphony has organized the contest, so she decided to have all fifth graders take part. The assignment was to write a 16-measure composition for the recorder using the notes G, A, B, C and D.
The students had to choose their own arrangement of their song, writing a part A and part B and then selecting an arrangement such as A, A, B, B or A, B, B, A. They also chose the tempo and the mood.
“They all had to play it on the recorder, play each other’s (composition), practice it,” Hancock said. “We did several revisions; we treated it kind of like a writing assignment. I just gave them a few guidelines, but otherwise, I just said ‘go ahead and do your thing; have fun.’”
Hancock said Jaycee wasn’t the only student enthusiastic about the assignment; the project brought out creativity in a lot of students.
“They loved it,” she said. “I’d never done a composition project quite like this, and they were really excited about it.”
After grading them, Hancock chose all of the students who had earned 100 percent — about 25 — and entered them in the contest.
She got the email that Jaycee was the winner the day before Thanksgiving break.
“There were several that were outstanding, and hers was one of them,” Hancock said. “So I was really excited just to give them that exposure. I didn’t think anyone would win, just because there were so many people submitting. But I felt like the ones I submitted were really high quality, so I was really proud to submit them.”
Hancock said she was glad she didn’t have to select a winner; she said finding a winner even among the Edwardsville entries would have been difficult.
“It came down to when the Symphony people played through all the compositions, something about hers must have stood out,” she said.
Jaycee said when she found out, she was definitely surprised.
“I was like ‘What?’” she said. “I didn’t know if they were joking, but it was so exciting.”
Jaycee’s piece will be one of the songs students learn to play along with the symphony at the Link-Up Concerts and is now being arranged for symphony orchestra by renowned arranger Matthew Naughtin.
“He actually emailed me; I took a video of Jaycee talking about her music, because he wanted to know a little bit more about it so he could write his music appropriately to make it match to mood she’s going for,” Hancock said.
Hancock and other teachers agreed that Jaycee, who has attended the school since kindergarten, deserves the attention. Kristan Hammond, art teacher, calls Jaycee a “renaissance girl.”
“She’s just a strong leader,” Hammond said. “She’s well-rounded, kind; if I were a fifth grader I would want to be her friend. She cares about what she does and puts her best effort in, goes out of her way to make people feel included.”