“Maybe in the future we will be an inspiration to other women composers, who won’t be afraid of showing their music to the world.”
Special Music School High School senior Michelle David vividly recalls the little toy keyboard that first sparked her love of music. “I just had fun with it,” she remembers. “I used to copy songs and improvise.” She soon began taking piano and theory lessons, and loved to sing when no one was watching. Michelle auditioned for SMS High School in 2013, the year it first opened (SMS’s K-8 program began in 1996). The brand new school had no ratings yet, but she decided to take a chance. “I had a good feeling about this school,” she explains. “I felt really welcome.” Four years later, Michelle still appreciates SMS’s unique vibe. “Everyone has their own talent, their own gift,” she explains. “Everyone supports each other. The school is like a family. It doesn’t feel like a school to me, it feels like a second home.”
While Michelle had always improvised at the piano, she never thought of herself as a composer. She had auditioned for SMS as a vocal major, but then a project in her 10th grade music theory class introduced her to music notation software and challenged her to compose. “I went crazy, I kept writing until 2 am,” says Michelle. “Then I just kept on writing pieces for fun. That’s when I figured out I should major in composition.” Soon, she was submitting pieces to Kaufman Music Center’s Face the Music youth new music ensemble. Last June she premiered a work inspired by Homer’s Odyssey at “Solar Flare: A Celebration of Women Composers.” (Click here to watch.) At the performance, Michelle was nervous, but elated. “I felt accomplished,” she says. “That was the first time I played my own composition. It felt different from performing other people’s pieces. It’s like I found my home.” Without SMS, she believes, she never would have become a composer.
This fall, Michelle was chosen to participate in Luna Composition Lab, a new mentorship program for young women composers founded by the acclaimed composers Missy Mazzoli and Ellen Reid in cooperation with Kaufman Music Center. Michelle will work with an established composer to develop a new piece, which will be premiered by Face the Music at Merkin Concert Hall in June. “I’m getting a lot of inspiration from this program,” she says. “I’m really excited to perform some of my pieces. I hope to learn more about composing in general.” It’s important to bring more attention to women composers in general, she believes. Michelle feels proud for her fellow teens in the program, and especially for the professional women composers who will mentor her. “They’re an inspiration, and maybe in the future we will also be an inspiration to other women composers, who won’t be afraid of showing their music to the world.”
“I’m inspired by anything that expresses strong emotion,” says Michelle. She loves film scores and also finds inspiration in Romantic composers as well as her classmates at SMS. A big fan of unexpected chord progressions, she listens to a lot of Radiohead and Debussy. Like many of her peers, Michelle finds it challenging to balance composing with her academic courses. And of course, applying to colleges is not exactly relaxing, although she appreciates the support she receives from her teachers, guidance counselors and peers. At college she plans to major in neuroscience and minor in music composition and theory. When it comes to her music, she’s thinking big. Noting its expressive, emotional power and potential as an agent for peace, she says, “I just want to make the world a better place with my music.”
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