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Teen Finalists Workshop Musical Scores From Masterclef Competition

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Masterclef finalists workshop their musical compositions - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Masterclef finalists workshop their musical compositions

Finalists selected for Masterclef, a competition for teen composers throughout Vermont, gathered for a masterclass workshop and awards ceremony in Burlington City Hall’s Contois Auditorium on October 29. The competition, which drew a total of 25 entries, was developed by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra in partnership with Suad Bushnaq, an award-winning Jordanian/Canadian composer, to riff off of a short melody from her cello concerto for orchestra called "Sampson’s Walk on Air."

(left to right) Randal Pierce, Suad Bushnaq and Matt LaRocca were the three judges. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • (left to right) Randal Pierce, Suad Bushnaq and Matt LaRocca were the three judges.

One by one, the thirteen finalists stood up to present their musical creations to an audience of three-dozen people, consisting of family members and a panel of three judges  — Bushnaq herself, Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s Creative Projects Chair Matt LaRocca and accompanist Randal Pierce — who offered feedback. The students' scores were projected on the big screen as the audience listened to each composition. All of the teen composers worked alone with the exception of one trio. 

Samuel Kafferlin, an 8th grader from Williston Central School - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Samuel Kafferlin, an 8th grader from Williston Central School

Montpelier High School sophomore Jamie Maddox-White incorporated synthesizers and a toy piano into his entry, which LaRocca said gave his piece “beautiful colors.” Maddox-white said he set out to create a composition that had a “different genre and a different feel” from what he thought others might do.

“I was jamming to your piece when I listened to it the first time,” said Bushnaq, who compared the competition to the cooking show Chopped.

“We gave you pasta, tomato sauce, cheese and pesto and everyone makes a savory dish — and you decided to make a dessert,” she said.

Jamie Maddox-White, a sophomore at Montpelier High School, was a runner up. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Jamie Maddox-White, a sophomore at Montpelier High School, was a runner up.

Another sophomore from Montpelier High School, Callum Robechek, recorded found sounds on their phone from a water fountain and built a composition that Bushnaq described as “therapeutic.”


“Putting in these little Easter eggs for your listeners that are mind-blowing — it’s part of the composer really respecting the intelligence of their audience when you put in these little Easter eggs,” said Bushnaq.

Thirteen finalists gathered at Burlington's City Hall. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Thirteen finalists gathered at Burlington's City Hall.

The grand prize of $250 went to winner Chase Ehrlich, a violinist and sophomore at Montpelier High School. The two runners-up were Maddox-White as well as Maaike Dam, a sophomore at St. Johnsbury Academy; both received $125. All three walked away with a "composer’s bundle" that included an orchestration notebook and helpful tools for the craft.


Chase Ehrlich, a sophomore at Montpelier High School, won the grand prize. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Chase Ehrlich, a sophomore at Montpelier High School, won the grand prize.

All the finalists were invited to attend Bushnaq’s world premiere of her cello concerto "Sampson’s Walk on Air" by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra the following day at the Flynn.

“I was really blown away by the level of talent and how brave the composers were, really bringing their own voice into their creations. They didn’t shy away,” said Bushnaq. “Things like this have a value that’s much higher than who wins. This competition was to make these kids inspired by each other.”

Listen to the other finalists' entries, below: