Nineteen year-old Derek Myler was up against some of the most musically talented undergraduates and graduates in the country.
But the budding Mormon entertainer swept in and won the 2009-10 American Choral Directors Association's Raymond W. Brock Memorial Student Composition Competition.
"I'm very humbled and grateful to have been given the gift of music," Myler said of competing against graduate students with technically more musical experience. "Age and 'going up against' graduate students is irrelevant when you consider that I just love making music and always have."
Myler, a sophomore at Weber State University, is both the youngest competitor and the very first Utahn to win the prestigious award.
"Utah has an exceptional musical community that isn't recognized enough nationally," said Myler, who hails from Roy. "It's good to let people know about the good things coming (out of) Utah."
The competition required entries to be original choral pieces that had never been performed or published, be three to five minutes long, and they had to include lyrics from a sacred text.
Before even knowing the competition guidelines, Myler had written a four-part, upbeat choral piece based on and titled "Psalm 100."
"Psalm 100" begins with a rhythmic vitality and dance-like energy, developing through several metric shifts before arriving at an a cappella choral in the Baroque-style. After the choral swells, the dance-like rhythms and theme return.
Myler chose Psalm 100 for its praise of thanksgiving and service. "My piece is very joyful and celebratory … all fitting emotions from children of the Lord who are praising him and giving thanks for his goodness," shared Myler. He hopes the piece will "point people to the scriptures."
For Myler, the composition process is "startling," with inspiration coming in stages. "I try very hard not to force music to happen," Myler said. "First the text finds me, then the musical themes find me, and then I do my best to make a beautiful union of the two. In truth, I do very little."
Myler hopes to do his doctoral studies in choral conducting and then go on to conduct in a university setting. "I very much want to spend my life teaching as well as composing," Myler said. "I love teaching and being taught. … I hope to be able to pass on the inspiring and uplifting power of music."
As the winner of the competition, Myler received $1,000, and "Psalm 100" will be played for the first time at ACDA's divisional conference in Tucson, Ariz., in March.
Myler, however, will be unable to attend. In January, he will leave for a two-year LDS mission in Poland. Even though he is sad he won't be able to hear it for the first time at the conference, he remains upbeat.
"The second verse of Psalm 100 teaches us to 'serve the Lord with gladness,' " he said. "I'm just trying my best to live and follow the teaching of the text I set to music."