Following Past Youth Winners

In celebration of 30 years of the Amadeus Choir Annual Song Writing Competition we reconnected with past youth winners to see where they are now and how music has shaped their lives.

Kola-Owolabi

Kola Owolabi

Associate Professor of Organ
School of Music, Theater & Dance
University of Michigan

Tell us about your earliest musical experience.
I grew up in a very musical family. My mother was always singing while working around the house. When my older sister began taking piano lessons, I would sit down at our piano and began to learn how to play by ear. I started formal lessons at age 7. Shortly after, the organist at our local church in Nigeria left the country permanently, and I began to play the harmonium for mass every Sunday.

Do you remember the first composition you ever wrote?
I don’t remember my very first composition. The earliest one that stands out in my mind was the piece that I submitted the first time I entered the Amadeus Choir Competition. It was a simple setting for SATB Choir a cappella. I remember really liking the harmonies I discovered while writing the piece, so it was very exciting to have the piece chosen as a winning entry in the competition.

Were you present at the Amadeus Choir concerts when your winning compositions were premiered and how did it feel to hear your work performed for the first time?
I attended all of the Amadeus Choir concerts at which my winning compositions were performed. It was always a thrilling experience to hear the music come to life and to see a large group of musicians invested in performing my music. It was also a great test to see how the music I had imagined while writing the piece measured up to an actual live choral performance.

How did the Amadeus Choir’s Songwriting Competition influence your life in music?
The competition gave me contact with the professional music world at a very young age and made me realize that I could be a part of that. This was very influential to me as I made decisions to pursue music as my major at university and work towards a full-time career as a professional musician.

What are you doing now professionally?
I am currently Associate Professor of Organ at the University of Michigan, where I teach organ lessons, and courses in sacred music and improvisation. I have an active career as a recitalist, and have also performed numerous concerts as a continuo player for Seraphic Fire, a professional vocal and instrumental ensemble based in Miami, FL.

Allison-Winn

Allison Winn

Grade 12 Student
Toronto

Tell us about your earliest musical experience.
My musical career began the moment I became a member of the Bach Children’s Chorus as a keen little 5-year-old, and it was that same year that I began official piano lessons. I am still a member of the incredible Bach Children’s Chorus today, and I continue to study piano with the same teacher.

Do you remember the first composition you ever wrote?
Absolutely. I co-wrote my first song with one of my older brothers—I was 5 and he was 10. It was titled “The Animals’ Welcome,” and depicted the manger scene on Christmas Day where different types of animals had come to see the baby Jesus. I still remember the discussions I had with my brother, when we were struggling to find rhyming lyrics. The first song I wrote all by myself was when I was six. I sang it to my mother in the car while we were waiting for my brother at school. She wrote down what I sang on a Tim Horton’s bag, using solfege, and asked me to sing it again so she could see if I did it the same way the second time through. Apparently, I did.

Were you present at the Amadeus Choir concerts when your winning compositions were premiered and how did it feel to hear your work performed for the first time?
I have been present at every concert at which I’ve had a composition performed, and I am so lucky to have had those opportunities. It has always been an incredible experience to have the music that I had only ever seen on paper or had in my head finally come to life. I’ve had pieces performed by both the Bach Children’s Chorus and the Amadeus Choir, and both groups have consistently done a beautiful job of making these songs sound better than I ever could have imagined them.

How did the Amadeus Choir’s Songwriting Competition influence your life in music?
I participated in this competition for the first time at the beginning of my musical career, at the age of 5. It gave me an opportunity to share the musical ideas I had, and it allowed me to explore my musical voice. I have discovered throughout the years what interests me, what I most prefer to write, and how to write for all different voices—not only choirs, but brass and other instruments as well. It has been an incredible learning experience, and I believe that without this musical outlet, I probably wouldn’t be writing music today.

What are you doing now professionally?
I am currently a grade 12 student, and I hope to study life sciences at university next year. It is no question, however, that I will forever keep all different forms of music—composition, choral singing, piano playing, and more—as a huge part of my life.

Dr. Laura Sgroi

Dr. Laura Sgroi (Silberberg)

D.M.A., M.Mus., B.Mus.,
A.R.C.T.

Tell us about your earliest musical experience.
My parents bought me a toy piano when I was three. I still remember this keyboard and the fun I had figuring out how to play familiar songs. Soon after, I started creating my own.

Do you remember the first composition you ever wrote?
I don’t remember a specific composition/title but it was definitely composed on the toy piano. I was constantly making up songs.

Were you present at the Amadeus Choir concerts when your winning compositions were premiered and how did it feel to hear your work performed for the first time?
There is no greater joy for a composer than having your music come to life. Hearing the beautiful, full sound of the Amadeus choir was always a thrill.

How did the Amadeus Choir’s Songwriting Competition influence your life in music?
The Amadeus Choir’s Songwriting competition was my first experience writing choral music (entered the competition between ages 9-19). Hearing the Amadeus encouraged me to sing in a number of choirs and developed my love for choral writing. I am currently the composer in residence for the Cantabile Chamber Singers.

What are you doing now professionally?
I recently completed my Doctor of Music in composition at the University of Toronto. I teach private piano and composition lessons and am on faculty at the Royal Conservatory of Music. I also perform live improvised piano accompaniment to silent films at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Theatre.

Scott Tresham

Scott Tresham

Director of Artistic Operations and Strategy
Concours musical international de Montréal

Tell us about your earliest musical experience.
When I was a baby, my dad played euphonium in a brass band and he would often take me with him to rehearsals. I don’t remember this, but apparently I would cry whenever the music stopped.

Do you remember the first composition you ever wrote?
I don’t remember my first composition. That’s like trying to remember your first drawing. Kids cover a lot of paper.

Were you present at the Amadeus Choir concerts when your winning compositions were premiered and how did it feel to hear your work performed for the first time?
Yes. I remember it feeling familiar and strange at the same time, like déjà vu. I’d already experienced the music over and over in my mind, but hearing it all happen outside my head was surreal.

How did the Amadeus Choir’s Songwriting Competition influence your life in music?
I’m sure it’s part of the reason I ended up studying composition at university and pursuing a career in music. It was a great encouragement.

What are you doing now professionally?
Director of Artistic Operations and Strategy at Concours musical international de Montréal.

Cassie Luftspring

Cassie Luftspring

VYC Kids Conductor and Director of Music Literacy,
Vancouver Youth Choir
M.Mus., B.Mus.

Tell us about your earliest musical experience.
My grandmother played piano and had an old upright that I loved to pretend-play, and that likely sparked my interest in piano lessons. My parents both loved music even though they never had formal training; when I was little they would sing with me constantly, and put on records and tapes for me to hear – everything from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf to Garth Brooks to the Moody Blues to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Do you remember the first composition you ever wrote?
Yes! It was a piano piece called “Skating”. I wrote it when I was 6 years old, a few months after starting lessons at Yamaha Music School.

Were you present at the Amadeus Choir concerts when your winning compositions were premiered and how did it feel to hear your work performed for the first time?
Absolutely! I was there at all seven concerts. It felt exhilarating to be there the first time, and every time after that. Hearing one’s music come to life is such a wonderful gift – I am grateful for every opportunity that I have to attend performances of my works.

How did the Amadeus Choir’s Songwriting Competition influence your life in music?
Through the encouragement of the Songwriting Competition, Lydia Adams became one of my early mentors, and the Amadeus Choir became a huge source of inspiration. My success with the competition played a significant role in my decision – and ability! – to pursue university degrees in composition and conducting.

What are you doing now professionally?
I work as a conductor, pianist, singer, and composer. I’m currently living in Vancouver and working for the Vancouver Youth Choir as their Conductor of VYC Kids and Director of Music Literacy. I am also a Teaching Artist for Vancouver Opera’s “Project Opera” program, where I teach elementary school students to write, compose, and stage a mini “opera” based on source material from the classroom.

Aaron Schwebel

Aaron Schwebel

Associate Concertmaster Canadian Opera Company
Concertmaster National Ballet of Canada

Tell us about your earliest musical experience.
As a child, I had a lot of curiosity about music. My mother tells me stories of how I would grab a book of music, put it upside down on the piano and bang away. She enrolled me in violin lessons when I was four and singing lessons when I was five. I joined the Toronto Children’s Chorus and sang with them until I was twelve. I am still a violinist, twenty four years later.


Do you remember the first composition you ever wrote?
The first composition I ever wrote was “Hannukah Song” for the Amadeus Choir. As a child, I found myself humming a lot, or singing along to songs I knew. This habit had an inventive side to it as well, and soon a family member suggested that I actually try to compose a song. It was around the time of Hannukah, so I set to work making my musings official.

Were you present at the Amadeus Choir concerts when your winning compositions were premiered and how did it feel to hear your work performed for the first time?
I was present when my work was performed by the Amadeus Choir. It felt a little strange, sort of like hearing your own voice on tape for the first time. I’m sure I was blushing, but I was also proud to have my efforts recognized and my composition brought to life.

How did the Amadeus Choir’s Songwriting Competition influence your life in music?
Both singing and composing were a part of my early musical life, and the musician and violinist I am today is largely founded upon that part of my development. No matter what instrument you play, a sense of play, invention, phrase, breathing, are elemental in music-making, especially ensemble playing or singing.

What are you doing now professionally?
I am happy to say I still work with wonderful singers. I am Associate Concertmaster for the Canadian Opera Company and Concertmaster of the National Ballet of Canada.