How did most Goshen College students spend their Christmas vacation?  Reading, traveling, spending time with family, basking in the bliss of wasting time without consequence—the usual.  But the same cannot be said for Henry Stewart, a sophomore music composition and biochemistry double major.

After receiving an email from Jorge Muñiz, adjunct professor of composition at GC, about the VQ New Works Competition, Stewart decided to submit one of his composition pieces.  Stewart said, “I was already three-fourths of the way done with the piece, so when I saw that the competition was for a string quartet, I decided to enter.”

According to the competition website, the contest, hosted by the Villiers Quartet, a group based at St. Andrew’s Church in London, was open to any composer under the age of 35 with an original and unpublished piece that did not exceed 20 minutes in length.  Stewart’s piece, titled “Threnody/Images,” fit all of these requirements once he completed it a few days after receiving his professor’s initial e-mail.

In order to meet the Jan. 5 deadline, Stewart and Muñiz had frequent Skype sessions, an opportunity for Stewart to hear Muñiz’s critiques before he made the final adjustments to his work. Stewart credits his mentor, Muñiz, with his success as a composer thus far.  “Jorge is an excellent teacher, and we at Goshen are so lucky to have him teaching us.  None of this would have panned out if it wasn’t for him,” said Stewart.

Of the 54 entries by composers in places ranging from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv to the U.S., Stewart’s was one of the six pieces chosen by the members of the quartet. For Stewart, the honor was unexpected. “I do not consider myself that good of a composer,” said Stewart “I just wanted the experience of entering the competition.”

The three finalists, chosen by online voting open to the public, will win a cash prize, a professional recording of their composition and a live performance by the Villiers Quartet as a part of their spring concert series this year.  As of last Tuesday, Stewart was in the lead, carrying 34 percent of the votes.