Our Stories

Willamette Student Wins Coveted Composition Award

Phil Taylor '11 started playing piano at age 11 and writing classical music when he was 13, and his continued passion recently paid off in a big way - with a BMI Student Composer Award, one of the most coveted and prestigious awards for young composers in the Western Hemisphere.

He was one of just nine people nationwide to receive the award this spring. His piece, Metamorphosis, takes its inspiration from Johannes Brahms, who wrote one of the only regularly performed works for violin, horn and piano. "It's such an unusual combination," Taylor says. "I felt I had to try my hand at it."

Taylor first heard his composition performed live in April. "I was thrilled to actually hear real instruments play the work that had only existed in my mind. It was everything I had conceived, and more.

"Playing and creating music have always gone hand in hand for me, and composition is a bit like performing. You put your heart out there to be accepted or critiqued by the public."

His contemporary classical compositions feature rich, multi-layered textures. Taylor's mentors at Willamette include composer John Peel and pianist Jean-David Coen. "Dr. Peel made me the composer I am today," Taylor says, "and Dr. Coen taught me all I know about being a musician. That has carried over into the subtlety and sensitivity I try to bring to my compositions."

Taylor's second love is literature, and he has featured the poetry of Oscar Wilde and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his song cycles. Nature is also a primary inspiration.

"Music is my life," says Taylor, who is contemplating graduate school in composition. "It will be a big factor in what I choose to do.

"Many people think that classical music is dying. Audiences are aging and there is a perception that composers are growing less responsive. But there are so many fresh variations within what we call classical music. Modern music ranges from extreme minimalism to thick textures and from the dissonant to the consonant. It also crosses over into other musical forms. I believe that with that kind of variety, there will always be an audience for classical music."

The BMI Student Composer Awards are co-sponsored by the BMI Foundation and BMI. Awards are made on an annual basis for compositions submitted by students actively engaged in the study of music. The nonprofit foundation, based in New York City, was established in 1985 to support the creation, performance and study of music.