Jaffrey native honored by the American Prize in Composition

  • Leah Reid. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/25/2021 4:54:56 PM

The American Prize in Composition recognizes and rewards the best composers in America and according to this year’s judging Jaffrey native Leah Reid is at the top among the Vocal Chamber Music professional division.

Reid, a composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music who now lives in Woburn, Mass., and teaches at the University of Virginia, was chosen for the honor from among six finalists and countless other submissions. Reid entered two pieces in the competition, Single Fish and Apple, with both scores and recordings.

“I was a bit surprised,” Reid said of the award. “It’s certainly quite an honor and wasn’t expecting that I’d be chosen as the winner.”

According to Reid, “Single Fish is an aphoristic composition for three sopranos and hand percussion. The work explores the sounds and rhythms present inside Gertrude Stein’s poem “Single Fish” from Tender Buttons. The piece is divided into four sections, each examining a subset of the text. The singers are directed to explore a vast repertoire of theatrical characters and singing styles. The composition begins with delicate whispered and spoken phonetic textures and slowly incorporates pitched material: ranging from honky-tonk piano imitations to lush melodic lines.” The piece was composed using a multidimensional timbre model Reid developed while at Stanford University. The model is based on perceptual timbre studies and has been used by the composer to explore the compositional applications of “timbre spaces” and the relationship between reverberant space and timbre, or rather the concept of “timbre in space.”

Apple, which was written during a residency at the MacDowell Colony, explores the sounds and rhythms present inside Gertrude Stein’s poem “Apple” from Tender Buttons. It was written for four sopranos.

The work contains eight sections that examine the poem from various angles. The work is highly theatrical, and the performers are directed to explore a vast repertoire of dramatic characters and singing styles. According to Reid, “The first section explores the phoneme /aep/ and a “normal” singing style; the second section explores percussive whispered and spoken consonants from “apple” through “shake”; the third explores spoken and Sprechstimme vowels from “apple” through “please”; the fourth explores half-sung syllables from “apple” through “no no gold”; the fifth section explores spoken/Sprechstimme/and sung words and word-clusters through “change sweet is”; the sixth section is the most melodious and explores “bready” through “kind of” with the melody, and “apple” through “please” in the accompaniment; the seventh section explores the entire poem moving from whispered through half-sung textures, examining “apple” until “ham”; and the 8th section focuses on the final phrase: “this is use.”

“I’ve been exploring and really focusing on the timbre of the voice and different ways to approach vocal composition,” Reid said. “Because the voice itself is an instrument, and it’s some rich material to work with.”

Top billing in the American Prize in Composition is not the only accolade that Reid has received since the start of 2020. She was awarded first prize in the concours international de composition électroacoustique KLANG!, second Prize in the Iannis Xenakis International Electronic Music Competition – both in 2021 – and second prize in XIII° International Destellos Competition 2020 – all for her piece Reverie.

For much of the last year-plus, Reid was unable to produce her compositions for live audiences, which is a huge component in her work. Although the time spent at home allowed her to “take on a lot of projects” as it was “a time for creativity and work toward my craft.”

“It was quite a productive year,” Reid said.

She only recently began in-person performances, traveling to Italy last month “for my first in-person performance with musicians” since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reid did some online work, as she just had to adjust and change venues – but she never lost sight that she would once again bring her creative works to an audience.

“There was just a lot of hope for the future – and future performances,” she said.

Reid said she often applies for competitions and being stuck at home allowed her to apply for quite a few things.

And in the eyes of the judges for The American Prize in Composition, Reid’s work for Single Fish and Apple rose above the rest.

For more on Reid’s work and to listen to her award-winning compositions, visit http://www.leahreidm usic.com/.


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