Kailyn Williams '21 Wins State Music Composition Competition

Congratulations to MBS senior Kailyn Williams ’21, who won this year’s New Jersey Music Teachers National Association (NJMTNA) Student Composition Competition with her original string quartet piece, “Silver Bells & Golden Sand.” She will now advance to the regional and national competitions.

Williams entered the competition with encouragement from her longtime piano teacher, Danette Whelan, who happens to be the mother-in-law of her MBS advisor, Deanna Whelan. “Although she’s more familiar with piano than string instruments, she was very supportive and really helped me unpack my ideas,” said Williams.

Judges praised Williams’ composition for its “youthful energy and the inviting accessibility of the music — a good deal of humorous and lyrical writing, memorable thematic material and virtuosic handling of the string parts.”

Williams began composing “Silver Bells & Golden Sand” during her sophomore year after being inspired by a staccato plucking and strumming section in a piece by Maurice Ravel. She continued to refine her composition after studying African American women composers such as Florence Price and hearing Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who wrote the inventive theme to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. “Ultimately, I wanted it to be a very American sounding piece,” said Williams. “I’m used to playing European classical music, but I love jazz and I love American music and I wanted to embrace that.”

She is now looking forward to recording her original composition as part of her Advanced Strings class with MBS Performing Arts Department Chair David Gold. “We’re excited to use Kailyn’s piece as a pretext for learning about studio recording techniques in the School’s new Center for Innovation & Design,” said Mr. Gold. “Kailyn will record both violin parts, I will record the viola part, and we’re hoping to get Head of School Peter Caldwell to record the cello part.”

At MBS, Williams has demonstrated extensive and impressive involvement in the performing arts.  As a violinist, she has performed with both the MBS Middle and Upper School String Ensembles as well as countless extracurricular youth orchestras including the musically-acclaimed and socially-conscious Harambee Chamber Orchestra. As an actor, she has appeared in numerous MBS plays and musicals including last year’s powerful production of The Laramie Projectand this fall’s anti-war play, Mother Courage and Her Children, in which she plays the lead role.  

“Beyond her countless accomplishments and awards, though, what is truly exceptional about Kailyn is her desire to give back to her peers, her need to create change, and her sense of social responsibility,” said Mr. Gold.

As a sophomore, she helped coordinate a campus performance by members of Sphinx Virtuosi — one of the nation’s most dynamic string orchestras comprised of top Black and Latinx classical musicians. This year, she created Coda, a new club at Morristown-Beard School which explores the relationships between music, art and culture. 

She was also excited to learn that she was recently added to the Living Composers Directory as part of the Music by Black Composers website: www.musicbyblackcomposers.org.

Williams says that music will always play an important part in her life. “In college, I’m hoping to balance my artistic and academic pursuits — perhaps a double major in music composition and social justice or public policy,” she said. “No matter what I do, I know I’ll participate as much as I can with music.”


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