The Jessie S. Yee Prize has been awarded to three Virginia Tech students who have demonstrated excellence in musical composition: seniors Caroline Flynn, Brianna Magill, and William Rhodes.

The prize is endowed by Gordon Yee, an associate professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech, on behalf of his mother who was an avid arts supporter. Associate Professor of music Charles Nichols established the award in 2022. It is open each fall to all graduate and undergraduate students enrolled at Virginia Tech. The three winning student composers will receive grants of $500, $250, and $100 during the New Music + Technology Festival concert at the Cube on Wednesday, May 3.

First prize went to Flynn, who is double majoring in creative technologies in the School of Visual Arts in the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design and psychology in the College of Science. Her piece, “Scam Likely,” is a fixed media electronic piece built off audio from scam phone calls.

Flynn said her music "involves both electronic and acoustic elements, emphasizing the uncanny nature of the blend of natural and artificial sounds.” Of the award, Flynn said it is "a huge honor to receive any sort of memorial award, especially one honoring such a strong supporter of the arts. I am extremely grateful. I had to take time away from school last year, and submitting to the Yee Award was one of my first major goals upon returning. This honor has made my return feel like a major success and has strengthened my connection with music at VT.”

Second place went to Magill for “Crystalline Shards of Light,” a three-movement composition for brass quintet.

Magill, who is double majoring in music composition in the School of Performing Arts in the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design and chemistry in the College of Science, said her work “explores various approaches to minimalism from minimalist composers such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich. The first movement uses shifting rhythms and various mutes to evoke the image of light reflecting in an uncut crystal in the depths of a dark cave. The second movement is inspired by that same crystal being cut and polished using a combination of pedal tones and smaller, lighter melodic fragments. The third movement is inspired by the processed stone being put to work in an electrical circuit, with an energetic, nonstop rush of notes and interlocking rhythms coalescing into a single pulsing chord at the end.”

Rhodes won third place with his composition “Completely In and Out of Nowhere” for flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. Rhodes is double majoring in music composition and psychology. Of his winning work, he said he “was very interested in rhythm and exploring combining very different rhythmic ideas together." The end result of this experiment ended up being the piece he submitted for the competition.

The panel of judges was made up of composers Diana M. Rodriguez (DM R) and Kyle Simpson as well as the 2022 Jessie S. Yee Memorial Commission winner, Bobby Ge. The Yee Memorial Commission, also endowed by Yee, allows professional musicians to compose works specifically for the School of Performing Arts’ faculty to premiere.

Nichols said the winning student compositions "demonstrate exceptional creativity in a wide range of styles.” The winning students credit their professor, Nichols, with helping them achieve the award.

Written by Liz Gray, a graduate student in arts leadership in the School of Performing Arts

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