Young Composers Contest 2020

Make Music Day

In celebration of Make Music Day, and of all the young composers stuck at home this spring, the Make Music Alliance hosted a composition contest this year for composers aged 13-21, inviting them to write a short, 3-minute piece for SATB vocal quartet, set to William Carlos Williams’s poem, “By the road to the contagious hospital”.

Winning Composers

  • Jamey J. Guzman
  • Sander Owens
  • Miles GK Swinden

Special Judges’ Commendation

  • Isabelle Epps

Honorable Mentions

  • Linden Figueroa
  • Audrey Ormella
  • Ari Schwartz
  • Adrian B. Sims
  • Dana Al Tajer
  • Zoe Yost

Many thanks to our judges, composers David T. Little, Ellen Reid, Christopher Tin and conductor Anna Lapwood, and to the singers of our “Make Music Quarantet”: Charlotte Mundy, Lucy Dhegrae, Steven Caldicott Wilson, and Christopher Dylan Herbert.

And most of all, thank you to all of the young composers!

Special thanks to Meg Davies, Christopher Herbert, Kris Kautzman, Jane Shore, and Ashley Trupp.

Contest Entry Details

  • The Contest is open to applicants between 13-21 years old at the time of entry.
  • Entries can be created in any notation software. Contestants must submit both PDF and MusicXML files of their composition.
  • All submissions are due by 11:59pm EST on Monday, May 18, 2020, emailed to
  • All licensing rights to pieces submitted will remain with each composer.
  • Compositions must be written for a cappella vocal quartet (SATB). Our singers’ vocal ranges are listed in their bios below.
  • Compositions must use the text of the William Carlos Williams poem “By the road to the contagious hospital” in their piece. No other text may be used.
  • Compositions must be no more than three-and-a-half minutes long. (Accordingly, we expect composers to set an excerpt of the poem, not the whole thing.)
  • There is no fee to apply.

Click here for the complete contest rules (pdf).


Anna Lapwood

Anna Lapwood is a trailblazing musician. As a broadcaster she is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 3 and hosts a live, weekly classical music show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. This year she makes her TV presenting debut, hosting BBC Four’s coverage of BBC Young Musician 2020. Alongside her work as a conductor, Director of Music and public speaker, she is a highly distinguished concert organist. Appointed Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge in 2016, she conducts the Pembroke College Chapel Choir. In 2018 she established the Pembroke College Girls’ Choir and the Cambridge Organ Experience for Girls, both of which she runs. Sought after as a conductor, Anna has directed the BBC Singers and leads choral workshops around the world, specializing in bringing music to children from impoverished backgrounds.

David T. Little

David T. Little is “one of the most imaginative young composers” on the scene (The New Yorker), with “a knack for overturning musical conventions” (The New York Times). His operas Dog Days, JFK, and Vinkensport (librettos by Royce Vavrek), and Soldier Songs have been widely acclaimed, “prov[ing] beyond any doubt that opera has both a relevant present and a bright future” (The New York Times). Little’s music has been presented by the LA Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, LA Opera, Park Avenue Armory, Lincoln Center Festival, Kennedy Center, Holland Festival, and Opéra de Montréal, with upcoming engagements at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Opera Theater. He is chair of the composition program at the Mannes School of Music (The New School) in New York, NY, and his music is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

Ellen Reid

Ellen Reid is one of the most innovative artists of her generation. A composer and sound artist whose breadth of work spans opera, sound design, film scoring, ensemble and choral writing, she was awarded the the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her opera, p r i s m. Along with composer Missy Mazzoli, Ellen co-founded the Luna Composition Lab. Luna Lab is a mentorship program for young, female-identifying, non-binary, and gender non-conforming composers. Since the fall of 2019, she has served as Creative Advisor and Composer-in-Residence for Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Ellen received her BFA from Columbia University and her MA from California Institute of the Arts. She is inspired by music from all over the globe, and she splits her time between her two favorite cities – Los Angeles and New York. Her music is released on Decca Gold.

Christopher Tin

Christopher Tin is a two-time Grammy-winning composer of concert and media music. His music has been performed and premiered in many of the world’s most prestigious venues: Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, and the Hollywood Bowl. He has also been performed by ensembles diverse as the Philharmonia Orchestra, Metropole Orchestra, and US Navy Band, and has also conducted concerts of his own music with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Welsh National Opera Orchestra. His song “Baba Yetu”, originally written for the video game “Civilization IV”, is a modern choral standard, and the first piece of music written for a video game ever to win a Grammy Award. In addition to scoring films and video games, he is also an in-demand collaborator, working with artists across a wide-range of musical genres: Lang Lang, Alan Menken, BT, and Danny Elfman, to name a few.

Charlotte Mundy (Soprano)

Soprano Charlotte Mundy specializes in music that is new, daring and sublime. She has been called a “daredevil with an unbreakable spine” (SF Classical Voice). Recent performances include a set of music for voice and electronics presented by New York Festival of Song, described as “an oasis of radiant beauty” by the New York Times and George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at the 92nd St. Y. She acted and sang in A Star Has Burnt My Eye at the BAM Next Wave Festival and has danced while singing the music of Morton Feldman and Kaija Saariaho with New Chamber Ballet. Mundy “slays the thorniest material like it’s nothing” (WQXR) with TAK ensemble at venues such as the Library of Congress, Stanford University, Roulette and the Look and Listen Festival, and sings stratospheric microtonal lines with Ekmeles vocal ensemble at venues including The Metropolitan Museum and The Kitchen.Range: E3 to E6. The upper extreme of my range (A5-E6) is tiring and should be used sparingly. Text will not be clearly intelligible above G5. Lower extreme of range (E3-B3) is comfortable but quiet.

Lucy Dhegrae (Mezzo-Soprano)

Lucy Dhegrae is a singer committed to changing and challenging how vocal music is perceived, performed and programmed. Hailed as an “adventurous mezzo-soprano” and “raconteur” (The New Yorker) known for her “vocal versatility and an omnivorous curiosity” (The New York Times), she moves easily between a broad variety of styles, and can be found “everywhere new music is being sung” (New York Classical Review). Dhegrae is also the founder and director of the boundary-pushing Resonant Bodies Festival, which was praised by The New York Times as “an annual highlight [that] gives some of the world’s most adventurous vocal artists full freedom.” Committed to building a new repertoire for vocal music, Dhegrae is sought after as a collaborator and creator of a body of contemporary music that defies categorization of style or genre. She works closely with composers such as Eve Beglarian, Philippe Leroux, Jason Eckardt, Paola Prestini, Tonia Ko, Angélica Negrón, Kate Soper, Anthony Braxton, Judd Greenstein, Donnacha Dennehy, and others. Dhegrae has performed at venues including Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and Miller Theatre, with festival appearances at Mostly Mozart, Bard Music Festival, Gesher Music Festival, and many more.Range: F3 to Ab5. I prefer to approach high notes (anything above D5) with a leap from a lower note.

Steven Caldicott Wilson (Tenor)

Praised by the New York Times for his “powerful, polished and moving Evangelist” (2011) and “steadiness and sensitivity…impassioned without ever straining” (2015), tenor Steven Caldicott Wilson is a member of New York Polyphony and regularly appears with Handel + Haydn Boston and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra NYC. He will be the tenor soloist in the Baldwin Wallace Bach Festival’s Matthew Passion in April 2020, and will join the Trinity Baroque Orchestra in Leipzig, Germany for the June 2020 Bach Festival. Other highlights include solo appearances with H+H Boston in Handel’s Dixit Dominus; Bach St. John Passion at Alice Tully Hall; Poulenc Figure humaine with The Thirteen in Washington, DC; and Bernstein Songfest with Novus NY. Mr. Wilson is an enlisted veteran of the United States Air Force Band Singing Sergeants, and a graduate of Ithaca College and the Yale University Voice Masters program in early music, oratorio, and chamber ensemble. He lives in Pittsburgh.Range: D3 to C5, consistently mixed throughout. Comfortable reading either treble or bass clef. Prefers not to produce “extended technique” vocalisms such as whispering and guttural/throat sounds.

Christopher Dylan Herbert (Baritone)

Christopher Dylan Herbert is a baritone who performs frequently throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. He is a two-time GRAMMY® nominee. He has soloed with The San Francisco Symphony, Boston Symphony, and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, performed with International Contemporary Ensemble and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and he regularly presents Winterize – an outdoor adaptation of Winterreise with transistor radios. He frequently develops new opera and concert works, including commissions by Hannah Lash, Gregory Spears, Laura Kaminsky, and Ellen Reid. Dr. Herbert holds a B.A. in Music from Yale University, an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University, and a D.M.A. in Voice from The Juilliard School. He is the head of the voice program at William Paterson University in New Jersey, and he is the baritone in the critically acclaimed ensemble New York Polyphony. His current research focuses on the music of the eighteenth-century Ephrata Cloister in Pennsylvania.Range: G2 to E4 in chest voice, F4 to C5 in falsetto. Please write mainly in the middle of the range. Do not write extensively at either extreme. Please do not hang out on E4 for extended periods of time unless you want it very loud or very soft.

By the road to the contagious hospital

William Carlos Williams, from Spring and All (1923)

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast – a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines –

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches –

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind –

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined –
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
Entrance – Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

William Carlos Williams (1883–1963) was an American poet and physician closely associated with modernism and imagism. In addition to his writing, Williams had a long career as a physician practicing both pediatrics and general medicine.