Seeking and Sharing Inspiration


by Kayla Moore and Chris Pinelo

A sound? An aural texture? A tune? How does the creation process of an orchestral composition begin?

Through a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Young People’s Concerts Melody Contest, students in grades 6–12 from throughout the Tristate were given the opportunity to provide the creative spark by writing their own melodies. One melody by Covington Catholic High School sophomore John Lawrie was selected and incorporated into a newly commissioned orchestral piece by locally based composer and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music doctoral candidate Brian Nabors. The resulting composition had its world premiere at a CSO Young People’s Concert, “Express Yourself,” on January 24 and is being performed again at the Young People’s Concert on February 13, led by CSO Associate Conductor Keitaro Harada.

The contest, administered by the CSO’s Education and Community Engagement team in partnership with the region’s educators, began with students reading a poem and analyzing the nature of the work—what the mood is, what emotion lies beneath the text, and what music could possibly embody the meaning of the chosen piece.

Next, students were asked to create a melody that was inspired by the text, or one which could be sung with the text. Once these melodies were submitted, they were reviewed and a single winner was chosen.

This program was designed to ignite a spark of creativity in students—allowing them to explore a part of the arts that they may never have thought of as open to them. Tapping into composition is a great way to get educators and students involved, because this program worked with poetic text and music simultaneously, allowing for a new form of creative education.

“For many students, entering this contest might be their first time ever trying to compose music, which can be a pretty daunting task,” said CSO Education Programs Manager Becky Spiewak. “We try to make materials approachable for students of all levels with optional prompt questions to help them decide the musical feel or inspiration they’re aiming for. I think this type of creativity allows students to feel ownership and ability to express their voice in a different way than usual, without many rules. There’s no wrong answer when it’s a creation of your own.”

This year’s contest drew inspiration from the poem, The Bell Ringer’s Song, by local poet Mark Flannigan, which centers on ideas of freedom and the symbols representing it in the eyes of Americans. Contest winner Lawrie’s melody, “America’s Proud Lullaby,” was inspired by the theme of freedom and was intended to “weave in and out of our country’s history while proclaiming our national freedom, and the ability to chase the American dream.”

“John’s melody is very regal and hymn-like, it made sense to craft an exciting fanfare in which the melody would be the centerpiece,” said Nabors. “I composed a supporting theme that would lay the groundwork for the melody’s entrance, which is developed through and to the arrival and climax of John’s melody.”

Nabors also drew inspiration from the poetry, basing his composition around the meaning of the piece and drawing on “the state of equality in our own country, and what the whole of America achieving that would look like. I sought to create a work that was the embodiment of what ‘freedom’ might sound like.”

This program is exciting because it is a collaborative effort from so many walks of life. Not only does it bring music and composition into schools around the city of Cincinnati, but it sparks something in students and allows them to unlock musical and artistic creativity. It brings together educators, composers, and poets alike to provide a student the ability to see their work evolve from an idea to a full work.

When asked about how he felt to see his composition come to life, Lawrie said, “It’s unreal. I’ve always dreamed of playing with the orchestra, but having the orchestra play a melody I wrote is just amazing to me. This is something I will never forget…ever.”

The “Express Yourself” program is a presentation of the CSO’s Classical Roots