Program News–Fall 2019

It’s been a busy and exciting time for students, alumnx, and faculty of the MFA in Music Composition. Here are some of their recent projects and announcements:


Max Johnson (’16) selected as a Roulette commissioned artist for 2019-2020

“Creating complex worlds of sound, bassist and composer Max Johnson challenges his listeners to engage deeply and be rewarded with a complete musical experience that is always jubilantly crafted with love, care, and clarity.” Roulette operates a Commissioning Program that accelerates the careers of talented musical creators, giving them the financial and technical resources to create signature work.





Aaron Wyanski (’15) and Jonathan Bailey Holland, faculty, share the stage

Alumnx Aaron Wyanski and faculty member Jonathan Bailey Holland both had works featured on Juventas New Music Ensemble‘s 15th anniversary concert in Boston on September 15. That performance was repeated in Montpelier, VT on October 6.








TURNmusic 2019 Collegiate Composition Prize awarded to Megan DiGeorgio (’20)

Megan DiGeorgio has won TURNmusic‘s 2019 Collegiate Composition Prize for her string quartet Partial Pressures. Following its February 2019 premiere at VCFA, Partial Pressures was performed twice in September, at the 2019 New Music DC Conference in Washington, D.C., and in Burlington, VT.







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Kyle Pederson ’17 reflects on how VCFA influenced his five winning compositions for the 2018-19 American Prize

Kyle Pederson ’17 has been awarded the 2018-19 American Prize in Composition for the choral octavos professional division with his pieces “Can We Sing the Darkness to Light?,” “Psallite,” “In the Beginning,” “Stars,” and “A Mighty Fortress Is our God.”

All five of Kyle’s winning pieces were influenced in some important way by VCFA. One was born out of an assignment and a challenge by faculty advisor John Fitz Rogers; one was workshopped in the on-campus Choral Workshop; three were critiqued in masterclasses that take place during residency; and one formed the basis of several discussions with faculty advisor Jonathan Bailey Holland. In addition to one other centerpiece work with John Fitz Rogers, these five compositions were Kyle’s first pieces to be accepted for publication by a major publisher.

“The whole journey of these pieces, and my time/experience at VCFA in general, is a perfect example of how VCFA can prepare, develop, improve, and help launch a career. All this and I’m not even two full years removed from graduation!”

Below, Kyle reflects on each of his compositions and the ways they were developed, revised, and improved with feedback from both students and faculty members in the MFA in Music Composition:


Can We Sing the Darkness to Light

One of John Fitz Rogers‘ initial challenges to me after hearing some of my work was to be more intentional in getting the music out of root position. This whole piece began as a noodle out of root position, and throughout this piece I looked for ways to keep either the vocal parts or piano accompaniment in some sort of inversion. This allowed a return to root position to feel that much more impactful.

John suggested I look for a way to get the middle section into a different key, so that a return to the original key at the climax of the piece would be more dramatic. This modulation into the middle section proved additionally helpful in setting the melody more comfortably in the tenor range.

John also suggested I strip back some of the piano accompaniment in sections, wanting to be sure it didn’t become “the feature” and overshadow the singing and text. My tendency (in general) is to write an overly involved piano accompaniment, so this continual “push back” from John and others throughout my time at VCFA has been particularly helpful.

John and I talked a lot about the final couple of measures. Does it make sense to end it in tonic? What sort of “resolution” is needed? Or not needed? Are you asking a question, or making a statement? This conversation was helpful as I navigated how to close the piece.


Stars and Psallite

Both of these pieces were played and critiqued in masterclass and formed the basis of several discussions with Jonathan Bailey Holland. The comment that most stuck with me from Jonathan was a metaphor of color. He asked me what color I thought was evoked throughout the piece Stars….is it a purple piece? Light blue? Gray? And then he asked whether I wanted there to be only one color throughout, or whether the piece would be stronger by adding or mixing in another color. In the end, I decided to keep the color consistent, wanting the “purple” nature of the piece to wash over the listener and establish a consistent tone/color from start to finish. I think that helps strengthen this particular piece. However, I continue to think of that feedback from Jonathan in other pieces I write–and there have been several occasions when I realize that bringing in some other colors (or switching colors altogether) is exactly what that particular piece needs at that time to keep things fresh and interesting.


A Mighty Fortress is Our God

This piece was workshopped in the Choral Workshop. I collaborated with fellow VCFA-er Christian Dancy to write the electric guitar part. In workshop, the piece was very much in early draft form, and I was able to get a sense of how some of the tensions throughout would sound and how “sight readable” the piece might be.

The most helpful feedback in this process was from the students themselves, who suggested things like: “You clearly wanted to keep building energy, but as a tenor that part was simply too low to generate much energy or volume.” As a result of that particular comment, I re-wrote those measures so that they sat more comfortably in the tenor wheelhouse.

Another person said, “You have this really nice tension (interval of a 2nd) at the ends of phrases…but I think it happens a couple times too often. I think it would stay fresher if you only introduced that tension a few times throughout the piece for maximum impact.” It was a brilliant suggestion, and following that insight resulted in a more interesting, more impactful piece.


In the Beginning

This piece was also critiqued in a masterclass. One of the suggestions from Jonathan Bailey Holland and Mike Early was to make the clarinet more central to the piece; in the masterclass draft the clarinet was mostly “in the gaps”…and they suggested integrating it more fully into the piece so it didn’t read as an “afterthought.” In the final version, I did exactly that–and I think the piece is much stronger with a more cohesive and integral clarinet part. In some respects, I think, the clarinet “makes” the piece.

Finally, John Fitz Rogers used to talk about a homunculus (a term I had never heard before but now think about constantly) sitting on his shoulder as he composes and asking certain questions of the music. I think about this image often (not in a horror-movie sort of way)–a little homunculus that combines the vast and varied wisdom and perspective of each of the VCFA faculty sitting on my shoulder and asking questions and providing insight as I compose at the piano. What a gift that has been!


Kyle Pederson is equally at home as a pianist, educator, lyricist, and composer. 

His first album, Renewal, a collection of acoustic arrangements of traditional hymns arranged for piano, violin, cello, guitar, oboe and percussion, was chosen as one of the top albums of the year by Mainly Piano in 2010.  12.25, an album of piano solo arrangements of Christmas carols/hymns, was released in 2012 and listed as high as #4 in ZMR national radio airplay monthly charts.  Tracks from both projects continue to have life on radio and internet stations worldwide, and both albums are available for download on iTunes. 

In 2014, Kyle dove headlong into his life-long passion for choral music and has received awards from such choral ensembles as Cerddorion (NY), Little Singers of Armenia, and the International Lutheran Youth Choir.  Commissions have included the TAISM international high school choral festival, AMIS international high school and middle school honor choirs, MN All-State SA choir, Choral Arts Initiative, and a variety of school, church, and community choruses. Commercial recordings of Kyle’s works include New Choral Voices Volume II and III, released by Ablaze Records, featuring emerging composers in the choral field, and KC VITAs Chamber Choir.

Pederson earned his MFA in music composition from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Education from University of St Thomas (MN), and his BA from Augustana University (SD).  In additional to a variety of freelance projects, Kyle works part time in the music ministry at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN, where he composes and arranges music for a variety of services. Most of Kyle’s works are self-published, with select pieces published by Walton, Santa Barbara, Carl Fischer, Galaxy, and MusicSpoke.

You can hear compositions from Kyle’s winning portfolio on Soundcloud and learn more about Kyle and his work at


The American Prize is a series of new, non-profit national competitions in the performing arts providing cash awards, professional adjudication and regional, national and international recognition for the best compositions and performances by ensembles and individuals each year in the United States at the professional, college/university, church, community and secondary school levels.



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So…. Why DID you do it? Or… aren’t you a little old for this? Guest Post by Paige Garwood, ’16

Approximately 2 1/2 years ago, this newly-minted 60-year-old student stood on stage at the Vermont College of Fine Arts to receive his Masters Degree in Music Composition. It was a time of reflection – this was probably the last formal education I would receive. After all, I WAS 60 years old, at a time in life when retirement is considered the norm, not going back to school.

So why DID I go back to school to get a grad degree at the age of 58? There are two reasons that came to mind readily and one more reason which has become the overriding reason. The first reason for me was simple… I was intrigued. I am primarily self-taught as a musician (aside from a 6 month stay at the Armed Forces School of Music). Do I actually know enough to get into a program like this? I had my doubts. The second reason was akin to the first – where do I fit into the musical food chain? I have been a big fish in a series of small ponds my entire life. What would happen when I got into a bigger pond? Can I hang with the cats in Vermont? I have been a musician ever since I can remember, and self-employed as a full-time musician since 2002. What would happen when I got to VCFA?

So glad you asked.

In short, I found out that I could indeed hang with those wunderkinds up there in Vermont. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t even CLOSE to being the big dog on the porch, but at least I was on the porch. That was enough. What WAS surprising was that I didn’t really learn anything new MUSICALLY  – if you are simply talking about notes, music theory, and the like. What DID happen was that I was introduced to the fine art of discovery in music. I discovered my “process” (being able to turn on inspiration – or get my muse to come out and play). I discovered that the music I write is worth defending (thank you Diane Moser and Roger Zahab) and that it wasn’t a sin to believe in myself and the music I write. I re-discovered that music is the art of self-expression, not a contest between musicians. I am not a Margie or a Garrett (two of my youngish new and wonderful VCFA friends – both incredibly talented and beautiful human beings)… but then again – they ain’t me. I discovered that I REALLY loved choral music – especially that from the late Medieval or early Renaissance. Who cares that nobody is writing that way anymore – I embraced my new obsession and it found its way into each of my VCFA-related compositions. Finally, I can say I discovered a renewed passion for music that has since surprised me with its intensity. Every day I wake up and look for a moment or two when I can write something musical. Every day… For the last 2 1/2 years since graduating… I have several projects in the wings right now that I cannot wait to get started on. This last year has seen me write the music for two dance school programs, a short film, along with the odd string quartet or two, and an experiment with writing hymns.

So now we come to the over-riding reason for my attending VCFA at what is probably the waning years of my musical career. It’s a simple reason. Perhaps it is the most profound reason. I love music. I love all things music. After 50+ years as a musician, I…love…music. And in the end, that is still what drives me. I love nothing more than to sit down in front of a blank piece of score paper, and ask that piece of paper… “I wonder what’s going to happen NOW?”

Being immersed in an environment where everyone around you gets you – where everyone around you loves music at LEAST as much as you do – that is an experience worth chasing down.

So there you have it. VCFA. Me. Why.

Someone asked me since I graduated “Do you regret not doing this sooner?” I thought briefly and responded “Nope. VCFA came at just the right time. It’s the perfect capstone for my career in music.” You see, being an elder citizen had prepared me for the diversity I found in this school. Having a half-century of music experience under my belt prior to VCFA gave me a musical context that allowed me to truly enjoy my stay there.

I am under no illusion that I will be the next Mozart or Bach. I don’t believe that I will be “discovered” and become the next great thing in scoring movies. But what will I be? A lover of all things music. I will write music – I will play music – I will sing music right up until the time God takes me home. It’s good to be me.latest Nike release | First Look: Nike PG 5 PlayStation 5 White Pink Black BQ6472-500 Release Date – SBD

David Alm’s “Oceano” Included in VCFA Exhibit “Ecstatic Beasts”

David Alm’s (’17) woodwind quintet Oceano was featured in Ecstatic Beasts, a VCFA exhibition that considers our complicated relationship to animals and, consequently, the natural world. Animals are regarded a multiplicity of functions in contemporary human society and culture, serving as pets, food, clothing, medicine, surrogates, life-savers and proxies—to name a few. Their role is hotly contested, as what it means to support animal stewardship and still acknowledge our collective dependence upon them is a murky, and often political, ground. And then the question: which animal? We revere some, loathe others, and barely even think of many.

Oceano is a celebration of the birds living in and around the tiny California beach town of Oceano. The musical material mimics and emulates the many natural world sounds emanating from the habitats of six particular shore bird species. Beyond providing a means to further explore a woodwind quintet’s capacity for sonic beauty, the inclusion of such tunes are intended to demonstrate a kind of mythical/real interaction between the human beings and avians inhabiting Oceano.

Oceano was premiered by The City of Tomorrow (Elise Blatchford, flutes; Stuart Breczinski, oboe and English horn; Rane Moore, clarinets; Nanci Belmont, bassoon; Leander Star, French horn) on February 10, 2017 at VCFA. Listen to the performance here.

David is a high school choir director in San Luis Obispo and works as an instructional assistant/piano accompanist at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. He received his BA in piano performance/composition at UC Berkeley where he studied with the pianists, Charles Fuery and Janet Guggenheim (Itzhak Perlman’s longtime accompanist) and the distinguished composers, Richard Felciano and Jorge Liderman. He graduated from the MFA in Music Composition in February 2017, having studied with Roger Zahab, Michael Early, Andy Jaffe, and John Mallia.Nike footwear | Autres

Beth Bradfish Concert and Exhibition Grace New York

Chicago-based VCFA alum Beth Bradfish has an ongoing exhibition and an upcoming concert in New York. The concert, “Attachments,” features other members of the VCFA community and takes place on June 27th. The exhibition, Untied/United, is a collaboration with multi-discplinary artist Connie Noyes. Both projects were completed under the auspices of Harvestworks.


Untied/United is an installation about the fragility and resilience of close relationships. Noyes has woven a web-like pattern of elastic threads through the exhibition room. Visitors can interact with them via strumming, pulling, or moving around the threads. As they do, sensors developed by Bradfish use that information to create changes in the installation’s soundscape. The changes depend on the density and closeness of the strings, among other factors. The interwoven effects of the visitors can create some drastic results, and invite guests to ponder our interconnectedness.

The installation is currently running, and will continue through July 22nd. The hours are 12–5 pm on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Holiday Mondays at Governors Island Building 8a Nolan Park.


The technology that Bradfish developed for the installation will also be part of a special collaborative concert on June 27th. She will present an improvisation for piano, bass, laptop, Wii Remotes, contact mics, and smartphones about the present, past, and future of familiar relationships and places. VCFA faculty Diane Moser will join her on piano, with VCFA alum Max Johnson on bass.

The concert will be Wednesday, June 27th, at the ISSUE Project Room, 22 Boerum Place, Brooklyn, NY 11201.latest jordans | Nike Shoes