Phil Taylor ’11 is one of a handful of composers to win not one, but two, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) Student Composer Awards.
The awards are given to approximately 10 students from around the world each year for original, classical music compositions in various age categories. The pieces cannot be recorded or performed before they are submitted under pseudonyms.
“My pieces are never really final until I hear what they sound like out in the world, but the fact that it has won this prize without being performed gives me further incentive to keep trying different things and expand my artistic horizons,” Taylor says.
“That crucial element of expansion and discovery is something I hope to begin anew with each composition project.”
Gaining Credibility and Recognition
As a BMI winner, Taylor received a cash prize and attended an honorary banquet in New York on May 16.
The awards program was established in 1951 as a way to encourage young composers and to help them continue their music education. BMI is now the largest music rights organization in America and serves as a bridge between composers and the businesses and organizations that want to play their music publicly.
Music professor John Peel —Taylor’s composition professor while at Willamette — says the award will open doors for Taylor.
“Instead of his work going into the pile, he will have a chance for someone to take a second look,” he says. “The award gives him credibility and momentum because they know his work is original, beautifully crafted and professional.”
Taylor, who studied music composition at Willamette, won his first BMI award as a sophomore in 2009 for a piano-violin-horn trio, “Metamorphosis.” After graduating, he enrolled at the University of Chicago to earn a doctorate degree in music composition.
This was when he won a second BMI award for his chamber orchestra piece, titled “Chiaroscuro.”
Taylor says going out on a limb with an orchestra piece was extremely difficult at times. To grasp the overall shape of the work, he used colored pencils to map out different instruments and combinations of sounds.
“I'm deeply grateful to all of my teachers,” Taylor says. “This second award is equally exciting as the first one was to me, although I feel I've grown immensely as an artist in the past five years.”
Peel says Taylor is a humble and talented musician, and he’s proud of his former students’ successes.
“He is a very modest person,” Peel says. “He is so dedicated to music, and he knows he is a good musician.”
The commitment of professors like Peel is one of the things Taylor says he appreciates about his Willamette experience.
“Willamette is filled with incredibly bright and talented people eager to collaborate and help one another. That contributed heavily to my musical growth,” he says.
With his experiences at Willamette and the University of Chicago — paired with the credibility of the BMI awards — Taylor is ready to pursue other avenues to share his music.
One of his more recent adventures was the May 4 premiere of his recently finished song cycle — a group of songs performed in a sequence as a single entity — for baritone, flute and piano in Chicago. The text for the cycle,“Epiphanies?” was discovered and suggested to Taylor by Willamette flutist Sarah Tiedemann.
Tiedemann and Taylor have also discussed a possible West Coast premiere in the fall.
“Music is nothing but a mental exercise if it isn't heard,” Taylor says.“The passion of performance and communication between myself, performers and the audience is the main reason why I find music so gratifying.”