Young Composers Lift Off With Inspiration

The Upper School AP® Music Theory class recently welcomed Susan LaBarr, composer/arranger, and Missouri Composer Laureate (2012 and 2013) to officially kick-off their annual composition project. LaBarr is a full-time composer and choral editor living and working in Springfield, Missouri. She is also the composer of the MICDS Alma Mater, commissioned by the school in 2013.

“Meeting Susan LaBarr and hearing about her experience with composition and music was amazing. She not only told us about some of the ways she goes about composition and arranging but also talked about her path to becoming a composer and editor. I especially enjoyed when she talked about composing the MICDS Alma Mater, and how she used the mission statement and the school colors to construct the composition,” said Aishani Chakraborty ’22.

The MICDS composition project is a capstone event for the AP Music Theory class. It provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate and practice their understanding of the many musical part-writing rules by creating an original composition. Each student composes their 16-measure chorale in the style of J.S. Bach. Students will spend the next two months working on their piece, with four workshop deadlines to ensure that everyone is making good progress. There is also an opportunity to engage in a feedback loop, with the ultimate goal of building a musical composition of which they are proud.

Jack Morris ’21 said, “It was incredible to meet the composer of our Alma Mater—I’ve always been amazed by the arrangement of the song, and meeting the person behind it was so inspiring! We are so grateful that Ms. LaBarr Zoomed in to share her expertise with us. I’m sure her advice will help us through the upcoming challenges of our final project.”

During LaBarr’s visit, she shared details about her life as a full-time composer and choral editor for Walton Music, providing insight on how she approaches each composition she writes and the inspiration behind her work. She discussed the joy she finds in discovering new music written by budding young composers in addition to her travels, both nationally and internationally, to promote new choral music at conferences and reading sessions. She encouraged the young theory scholars to listen to many different music styles and music genres and use their musical minds to be creative when approaching their compositions this spring.

“Susan LaBarr’s visit was very reassuring that I do not need to have my whole life mapped out if I want to pursue anything down the musical path in the future because—even at her level of success—she did not know quite what she wanted to do at my age. All in all, she inspired me not to compare my abilities to others and just go out in the world and work hard to do what I enjoy,” said Jaylah McMurtry ’21.

LaBarr attended Missouri State University in Springfield, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in music and a Master of Music in music theory. Central to LaBarr’s musical vocabulary is the knowledge she gained from studying with Alice Parker, an internationally renowned composer, conductor, and teacher. LaBarr has completed commissions for choirs worldwide, and her arrangement of Quem pastores laudavere appeared on New York Polyphony’s 2014 Grammy-nominated album, Sing Thee Nowell. Her work for mezzo soprano and piano, Little Black Book, premiered at Carnegie Hall in October 2019. LaBarr, her husband Cameron, and their son Elliott reside in Springfield, Missouri. Cameron is the Director of Choral Studies at Missouri State University, and Susan works as Editor of Walton Music.

Thank you, Ms. LaBarr, for a creative and joyful visit!