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Staff Spotlight: Jon Riss Named Finalist at His Alma Mater's Choral Composition Contest

Middle and High School Director of Choral Activities Jon Riss,Welcome back to Staff Spotlight. In this latest edition, we feature Middle and High School Director of Choral Activities Jon Riss, recently named one of four finalists in the Annual Choral Composition Contest at his alma mater, Ithaca College.

The contest, sponsored by the Ithaca College School of Music and Mark Foster Publishing, a division of Hal Leonard, has encouraged the creation of new choral music for over four decades.

We sat down with Riss to learn more about the application process, his inspiration, and what he hopes to learn from the experience. See his responses below.

What was the application process like?

For the application, I had to submit a performance length composition suitable for high school mixed choral ensembles. In a mixed choir of male and female voices, the four sections are soprano, alto, tenor and bass, from highest vocal range to lowest.

What inspired you to apply?

I received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the piece I applied with. I wrote it in an hour for my Sunday church organist gig in 2021. I know the Choral Composition Festival well from my time as an undergrad at Ithaca College. So, on a whim, I sent in my piece.

How does it feel to be a finalist?

I am equal parts surprised and thrilled. Believe it or not, I've never had a composition lesson. The pieces were judged blindly, too. So, while I've made many connections at Ithaca, it was impossible for that to factor in.

A fun fact is that I had forgotten about entering the competition. Between that and the other circumstances, including no composition lessons and blindly judged scores, I was shocked to be named a finalist.

What is your hope for this experience?

I am really looking forward to spending time in Ithaca, seeing old friends, and sharing my music with them. Moreover, I am excited to work with the terrific Finger Lakes, N.Y.'s High School Choir, which has been invited to the Festival to perform the piece I wrote. And last, but certainly not least, I am excited to learn from the other composers and choirs who will be present.

Learn more about the Choral Composition Festival which will take place this Saturday, February 11.

Congratulations and good luck to Mr. Riss! Thank you for representing Hastings schools.