Winning the WASBE Competition

In my mind, it was so unlikely that I almost couldn’t believe it when the results were announced.

When thinking about competitions, I often remind myself about American composer Eric Whitacre’s blog post about the topic. In short: You won’t win, but throwing your hat in the ring will have other creative, emotional, and professional benefits – but you won’t win.

When I got an email from one of my former advisors during grad school, Dr. Wendy McCallum wrote “FYI below” and shared the information for applying to the 4th Annual WASBE Composition Contest (“WASBE” is short for the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles). As I’ve learned in my adult musician years, listening to Dr. McCallum is a good idea, so I decided I would throw my hat in the ring.

This would be my first really international competition. I have applied to competitions in Canada and in the US, but WASBE was really about competing on a truly international stage. In my head, I really believed that I wouldn’t have a chance, but (like Eric Whitacre said in his post) this would be good opportunity to get new years to hear some of my music. I sent in four pieces that I didn’t have yet in print: Prairie Sunset, Black Bear and Reverential Skies in the Level 1 and 2 category and Icelandic Folk Song Suite No. 2 in the Level 3 and 4 category. Then, I was told that I would find out in about six weeks which pieces from around the world were finalists and then they would be performed in Brazil at their conference.

Much to my surprise, Prairie Sunset placed in the Level 1 and 2 category and Icelandic Folk Song Suite No. 2 played in Level 3 and 4, meaning they would automatically go into print with WASBE. I couldn’t believe it. Considering they were going to print, at that point I’d felt like I already won. After sending in IFSS in various incarnations about three or four times, it was finally going to print. For a while, I had thought to myself that maybe the piece wasn’t as good as I thought it was because I couldn’t get it into print, but this placement really shook that belief. Prairie Sunset itself was untested. I’d read it with my Junior Symphonic band to check it and proof it, but that’s it. It’s a reimagining of the third movement of my Prairie Trombone Suite and it sounds really nice, so I thought I’d give it a shot. The pieces were selected by blind audition and my name and country weren’t on any paperwork seen by judges, so I had as good a chance as anyone (not that it would have really helped me at this level anyway).

Prairie Sunset was up against two pieces by Arkansas State University Composition professor Derek Jenkins, so I thought that my piece was a stretch. IFSS No. 2 was against a composer from Puerto Rico/USA and another from Japan, so I would see how it would play out. I was the only Canadian who made it to the final, but the pieces were already going to print, so I was just happy that they landed where they did.

All pieces were performed at the conference in Brazil and the jury selected the winners from there. To my shock and delight, both Prairie Sunset and Icelandic Folk Song Suite No. 2 won their category. I had just won my first international competition and in two categories.

I was floored. First, in that Prairie Sunset hadn’t even had a proper premiere, yet it had enough merit to win the category (in fact, the performance at the conference was probably the premiere, hahaha). The second win really felt good, though. I wasn’t sure if Icelandic Folk Song Suite No. 2 really had the merit I thought it did, as it was always the bridesmaid and never the bride at publishers, but then people outside of myself and my community really believed in it enough to declare it the winner. Also, and most importantly, the entire Icelandic Folk Song Suite is now in print! The only ensembles to ever perform all four movements consecutively from both smaller suites (that I know of) are the Winnipeg Wind Ensemble, one of the senior concert bands at the International Music Camp, and the University of Manitoba Concert Band, all directed by Dr. Jacquie Dawson (who knows this piece inside and out). Finally, it’s all out there!

Anyway, more details to follow! I’m super excited and proud of the music. Please purchase the music when you are able!


Leave a Reply