Melody is the muse for Peter Fitzgerald and John Carroll.
The two second-year students at Schenectady County Community College are studying “performing arts — music” and are also training to become composers.
The work has paid off: Fitzgerald and Carroll have both won prizes in the Jack Stone Award for New Music Composition Contest, a national contest. The students will be on the campus of Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, Texas, today to hear professional performances of their works, written for saxophone quartet.
The annual musical-score contest for community college students is the only national contest of its kind for two-year college students.
Fitzgerald, 19, who lives in Schenectady, took first runner-up for his piece “A Final Goodbye.” Carroll, 22, who lives in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake area, won second runner-up for his “Sketch of a Figure Skater.”
The students won $100 and $50, respectively.
There were motives behind the music for both men.
For Fitzgerald, a 2015 graduate of Schenectady High School, the melody in “A Final Goodbye” represents a farewell to depression and anxiety. He struggled with depression during some of his high school years, and the sad mood continued as he began studies at SCCC.
Those feelings are reflected in his 5 1/2-minute piece. The first section is not a study in joy … happier notes arrive at the end.
“The very end is kind of like a moment of relief,” Fitzgerald said. “The middle is very, I would say, stressful. This was kind of like a way where things started to become a little better near the end, and that’s where the piece takes a turn. My life had caught up with the piece, that’s where that moment of relief at the very end is … it’s a goodbye to depression and anxiety. It’s kind of like saying, ‘I’ve let go of this part of me.’ “
Fitzgerald, who won first prize in the Stone competition in 2016, took about six months to write his newest composition. While he plays trumpet and piano, he also used computer software to arrange his notes.
“The computer was playing it back for me because I’m not that good at piano,” Fitzgerald said. “I can play what I write at a fairly slow tempo, but the computer will play it back at the tempo that I want. But it won’t sound as good as real musicians.”
Fitzgerald has been composing for the past three years.
“One of my music teachers at Schenectady High School, David Gleason, got me into arranging music,” he said. “It’s taking music that already has been written and putting it into another medium, such as taking a pop song and making it for jazz ensemble. So I started out with that.”
Carroll, who graduated from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School in 2013, became involved with music at age 16.
“I think I wrote my first piece when I was 18,” he said.
A song of love
While Fitzgerald cast aside depression and anxiety, Carroll counted on love when he was writing “Sketch of a Figure Skater.”
“It’s a Valentine’s Day present for my girlfriend,” he said, adding that friend Stephanie was once heavily involved in dance.
Dance moves can be moved to the ice. Snow and cold weather were also on the composer’s mind when he sat down at his piano and quickly wrote the piece.
Carroll wrote the “Sketch” in two days.
“I turned it in 10 minutes before the [contest] deadline,” Carroll said.
“It was probably two of the worst days ever,” he added. “I was rushing it and it was extremely anxious. In the end it was, I guess, successful. I really wished I had paced myself more with that.”
Both students are looking forward to hearing their works performed by professionals.
“I look forward to the feedback I’ll get because it will all be good criticism, I hope,” Carroll said.
Carroll knows all about live performance. He plays electric guitar in Albany’s “Geek Musica,” a chamber music group that plays arrangements of video game and film music.
Fitzgerald remembers the feeling from last year.
“It’s so different hearing it played by real instruments with people who are expressive instead of a computer playing it for you,” he said. “It’s pretty surreal hearing it.”
Dr. William Meckley, dean of SCCC’s School of Music, loves the fact that two of the three winners in this year’s contest came from the college.
“To have student composers from SCCC recognized for two years in a row is really a big thrill for us and I think it speaks well for the kind of training these students are getting.”