Temple University student wins Lyric Fest’s Young Composer Competition

Samuel McLaughlin is the second Boyer student to win this award.

Samuel McLaughlin started composing film scores for his friend’s short films in high school. It was then he decided to take music composition seriously.

“Music composition is the only place I could see myself,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin, a sophomore music composition major, won the Young Composer Competition at Lyric Fest in January for his work “The Dismantled Ship.” He is the second Boyer student to ever receive the award.

The Young Composer Competition, held by Lyric Fest, is an annual competition for aspiring composers. The musicians compete for the opportunity to perform at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and Phoenix Concerts in New York City.

This year, the competition celebrated the bicentennial of American poet Walt Whitman by encouraging contenders to compose a work inspired by a Whitman text of their choice.

McLaughlin named his arrangement “The Dismantled Ship,” after Whitman’s poem of the same name about a retired ship left to be forgotten. McLaughlin said a great deal of his music is inspired by nature, and thought Whitman’s poem was a perfect match.

“My pieces draw from natural imagery,” said McLaughlin. “And this poem had a beautiful image of the sea and I really loved the imagery.”

“I really just tried to get inside the text, try to figure out what it was saying and how I could add to the meaning of the poem with music,” said McLaughlin. “I tried capturing the mood of the poem, and I hope I did it justice.”

McLaughlin collaborated on the piece with Matthew Greenbaum, a former composition professor. Greenbaum, who used to be McLaughlin’s private instructor, would meet weekly with McLaughlin to discuss and refine McLaughlin’s pieces.

“It was a great opportunity to have a private instructor because you can have someone who is much more knowledgeable in the field and can direct your ideas in a more professional way,” McLaughlin said.

Maurice Wright is a Laura H. Carnell music composition professor and McLaughlin’s mentor. Although Wright has yet to formally teach McLaughlin, he already thinks highly of him and his work.

“He’s a very serious person, very dedicated to what he does,” said Wright “His work is almost folk-based and has a very Americana sound to it. He has a real flair for texture and harmony.”

Aside from professors at Boyer, McLaughlin seeks mentorship and influence through his religious beliefs.

“I’m a deeply religious person, and I believe music comes from God,” McLaughlin said “It’s important to be quiet, listen to God sing to you, and you sing back. That’s how I look at the composing process.”

Isabella Ness, a 2016 music composition alumna, was the first Boyer student to win the award in 2016. Lyric Fest commissioned an additional piece from her for this year’s performance, which will be performed by another musician.

McLaughlin said it was an honor to represent Temple alongside Ness.

“Temple is really going to be representing this year and it makes me proud to be from Temple,” McLaughlin said.  

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