Writing songs on the piano was nothing new for 13-year-old Kaelan Minett. The Morris teen has been doing it since he began playing piano at age 5. Winning a cash prize for doing so, however, definitely was not something he expected.
The Iowa Composer’s Forum announced July 8 that Minett’s original piano piece, “Reign,” had finished first in the middle school division of its annual competition for composers. Minett will receive a $100 prize and will get to watch professional musicians perform “Reign” at the ICF Festival of New Music in the fall.
“I didn’t believe it when I first heard it,” Minett said.
One person less surprised was Minett’s piano teacher, Bonnie Johansen-Werner. The Joliet-based music instructor used to live and teach piano in Iowa, which is why she still has her students submit music to the ICF. She described Minett as hardworking and imaginative. Johansen-Werner said that great imagination helped Minett come up with unorthodox percussion accompaniment.
“I let [Minett] know that the judges like it when students think outside of the box with their music. His eyes lit up, and he said ‘Oh, I’ve got an idea,’ ” Johansen-Werner said, “Later he came back with a part for someone to play along with a half-filled glass of water.”
Minett said “Reign” is based off of a fantasy character and world he and his friends came up with years ago. The fantasy world was well developed, complete with small songs written for different characters. When his teacher asked him if he wanted to submit a piece to the ICF, he went digging through those old songs.
“I looked back at one of them and thought ‘Hey, that’s a pretty good melody. I bet I could rework that,’ ” Minett said.
Minett transformed the old melody into a Rondo, a form of music composition where the melody keeps reappearing throughout the piece. After several back and forths via email with Johansen-Werner, “Reign” was tweaked to perfection.
Minett’s mother, Angelique, said she was very proud of her son, noting that it was the first piece he had ever submitted to a competition.
As for the prize money, Minett said he would be tucking it away into savings. He isn’t sure yet what he wants to be, but he knows music and composition will always be a part of his life.
According to program notes Minett wrote about his submission, “Reign” is about the end of the reign of the villains in his fantasy world. However, Minett said his reign as a composer has just begun.
“I want to keep learning new forms of composition,” Minett said. “Maybe someday I’ll write a symphony.”