Student winners of the first annual Yee Prize competition for musical composing announced
April 27, 2022
One piece was composed for orchestra, another for choir, and a third for rock band. In announcing the winners of the first annual Yee Prize, a student competition in musical composition, the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts revealed the diversity of talent across campus.
First place went to Leah Childers, a senior majoring in math and minoring in music, for her orchestral composition “Symphony No. 1: The Myth of Er.”
Leslie Fontaine, a junior majoring in biological sciences and minoring in music and religion, took second place for “Loving Like an Existentialist,” a composition for soprano, alto, and bass choir.
Third place was awarded to Lucy Wampler, a wildlife conservation major, and her band, Hoya Bella, for the rock composition “Tell Me.”
Gordon Yee, an associate professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech, founded the competition in memory of his mother, Jessie S. Yee, an ardent supporter of the arts. He also took inspiration from the Giovanni-Steger Poetry Prize contest.
Nikki Giovanni — an internationally acclaimed poet and the University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech — founded that annual competition in 2006, and it has since become one of the most prestigious undergraduate literary awards in the country.
“I have always been inspired by the poetry prize, and I was interested in funding a corresponding prize for original musical composition,” said Yee. “I proposed the idea to faculty members in the School of Performing Arts, and they jumped right on board.”
All Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of degree program or school, were encouraged to submit compositions in any genre or medium. An international panel of composers — Juhi Bansal, Anthony Green, and Kyle Simpson — selected the winning compositions.
One of those judges — Bansal — was also the winning composer of the first annual Jessie S. Yee Memorial Commission, a competition Gordon Yee founded last year for professional composers outside of Virginia Tech to create works for School of Performing Arts faculty ensembles to premiere and record.
Yee’s principal collaborator in launching both the Yee Prize and the Jessie S. Yee Memorial Commission was Charles Nichols, an associate professor of composition and creative technologies, who took the lead in planning and organizing both competitions.
“With the enthusiasm and support of Charles and other colleagues in the School of Performing Arts,” Yee said, “both competitions have taken on lives of their own.”
The winning student composers will receive their awards during a special presentation at the New Music + Technology Festival on May 4 at 6 p.m. in the Cube of the Moss Arts Center. The festival will also feature the premiere of new works by Virginia Tech faculty, students, alumni, guest artists, and musical ensembles, including the New Music Ensemble and L2Ork, the Linux Laptop Orchestra.
“I’m excited to have this opportunity to showcase the diverse talents of student composers at Virginia Tech,” said Nichols. “We are grateful to Dr. Yee for supporting the arts.”
Written by Paula Byron