Composition Competition Archive

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Welcome to the archive of the annual Art Gallery Music Composition Competition at Grand Valley State University. This competitive event began in 2009, with the generous support of Larry and Elaine Rutowski Shay, and has seen premiered 257 student-composed music compositions resulting in over $6,500 in prize money awarded. Each year GVSU student composers are invited to create 60-second compositions that are based on artwork displayed in the college art gallery. Compositions are submitted anonymously, and then rehearsed and performed by the GVSU New Music Ensemble. A panel of judges and the audience select prize-winning works, which are announced immediately after the performances. Our first competition in 2009 corresponded with the gallery show, The Paris of Touoluse-Lautrec, Bonnard, and Vuillard. Subsequent shows paired compositions with artifacts from the American Museum of Magic, space photography, Southwest Pueblo Indian pottery, an Art Prize mural, poems and images honoring the Great Lakes, a room-size piece of 2,000 images, and photography of the ravines of Grand Valley. For our anniversary event, the compositions are based on the art in the recently renovated Louis Armstrong Theatre lobby in the Haas Center for the Performing Arts.

As we reflect on the many performances and memories throughout the years, what has been a constant is the enthusiasm our audiences have shown for this process of bringing brand new music to life. No matter if the music is experimental, more traditional, or even unclassifiable, the efforts of the composers and performers has always been valued and appreciated. Thank you to our audience for their continued support of the creative arts, a vital component of the human spirit.

The New Music Ensemble at Grand Valley State University is an undergraduate ensemble that promotes the music of our time through commissions, tours, recordings, collaborations, outreach events, and workshops. Founded in 2006 by its director Bill Ryan, the ensemble not only prepares students for careers that include contemporary music, but helps them to become exceptional educators, advocates, and leaders in the field.

This event is made possible each year with the generous support of Larry and Elaine Rutowski Shay.



GVSU New Music Ensemble
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The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, and Vuillard

For many people, the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec and Bonnard are emblematic of lithography in fin-de-siècle Paris. Also included were lithography-enlivened book jackets, advertisements, sheet music, literary journals, as well as humor magazines.

Many of the images in this exhibition reflect the late 19th-century artists' indebtedness to Japanese woodblock prints and photography. French artists enthusiastically appropriated design strategies long used by Japanese printmakers including a-symmetry, flat color, contour line, and unusual points of view.

1st Prize: Adam Cuthbert
2nd Prize: Tyler Smith
3rd Prize: Ray King


Enduring Traditions: History and Meaning in Southwest Pueblo Indian Pottery

Over one hundred years ago pottery making by Pueblo Indians in the American Southwest was transformed from the manufacture of utilitarian objects for everyday use to craft production for the tourist trade. Featured in this exhibition are distinctive ceramics from several pueblos, collected in the late 19th through the mid 20th century, including works by Maria Martinez, one of the most famous Native American potters of the 20th century. This is the first of a series of exhibitions planned by the GVSU Art Gallery that will focus on the rich diversity of the Native American cultures of the Americas. (works created in collaboration with student choreographers)

1st Prize: Nick Ortquist
2nd Prize: Ashlee Busch
3rd Prize: Ashlee Busch
Audience Prize: Nick Ortquist

Judges: Henry Matthews, Pablo Mahave-Veglia, Calin Radulescu, John Schuster-Craig, Kathryn Stieler


Ravines Revisited

Photographic essays by GVSU faculty artists Dellas Henke, Stanley Krohmer and Anthony Thompson, explored the beauty and complexity of the landscape, the effects of erosion and our complex relationship to the Allendale Campus Ravines. Complimenting the exhibit was work in a variety of media by students and additional faculty. Held in conjunction with Grand Valley's 50th Anniversary.

1st Prize: Adam Cuthbert
2nd Prize: Kaja Lill
3rd Prize: Kaja Lill
Audience Prize: Bradley Saniga

Judges: Shawn Bible, Henry Matthews, Todd Reynolds, John Schuster-Craig


Mystery, Magic, and Mayhem: Wonders from the American Museum of Magic

Magic has long been a topic of both interest and controversy that has enthralled audiences for hundreds of years. For some, it’s spiritualism and for others, it’s strictly a performance art. This exhibition of magic history provides a window into the worlds of illusion, conjuring, legerdemain, mentalism and escape artistry. On loan from the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan, are over thirty stunning graphic visuals and related objects associated with legends such as Thurston, Houdini, and Michigan’s own Harry Blackstone, Sr.

1st Prize: Bradley Saniga
2nd Prize: Mark Lyle
3rd Prize: Bradley Saniga
Audience Prize: Bradley Saniga

Judges: Ashlee Busch, Gayle Davis, Henry Duitman, Sofia Mahave, Henry Matthews


north America nebula

North America Nebula
Courtesy of NASA
Digital photograph

History of Space Photography | January 15 - March 21, 2014

From the earliest black-and-white photographs of the moon to the most recent images taken from the Mars Curiosity rover, The History of Space Photography exhibition features 50 noteworthy images from the last 50 years of space exploration. These stunning and beautiful visuals, including video projections of celestial animations, were captured by astronauts, astronomers, and data visualization experts. Grand Valley State University Art Gallery is pleased to share these historic cosmic images with you. The History of Space Photography exhibition is organized by the California/ International Arts Foundation and is guest curated by Jay Belloli, former Director of Gallery Programs at the Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA.

1st Prize: Eamon Carmody
2nd Prize: Richie Arndorfer
3rd Prize: Ben De Leeuw
Audience Prize: Ben De Leeuw

Judges: Liliana Mahave, John Martin, Carrie Morris, Ellen Pool, John Schuster-Craig

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1st Place Winner | Eamon Carmody

Eamon Carmody

Composition Title: Emergence
Based on the NASA photograph titled: Earth and Moon


Eamon Carmody is a composer, photographer, and writer from Marne, MI. Born and raised in the Michigan countryside, he finds much of his inspiration in the natural environment. With all of his work, he strives to evoke feelings of peace and tranquility, to create a quiet place in a busy world. He holds degrees from Grand Valley State University and the University of Houston, and he has collaborated with various groups including the GVSU New Music Ensemble, the AURA Contemporary Ensemble, and HGOCo. Currently, he splits his time between working in public administration and developing assorted creative projects through Susurrus Arts.

2nd Place Winner | Richie Arnhofer

Richie Arnhofer

Composition Title: Oh
Based on the NASA photograph titled: Jupiter's Ring System

Richard Arndorfer is a composer and performer. He studied oboe, composition, and psychology at Grand Valley State University and studied composition at Bowling Green State University where he currently teaches. He has had music read or performed by the Donald Sinta Quartet, Yarn/Wire, Fifth House Ensemble, the Toledo Symphony String Quartet, the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, and Wade Selkirk. He enjoys reading, watching movies, and being in nature.

3rd Place Winner | Ben De Leeuw

Ben De Leeuw

Composition Title: Halcion
Based on the NASA photograph titled: Central Region Of The Milky Way Galaxy

Ben De Leeuw is a lifelong resident of Grand Rapids– barring two years of school at North Park University in Chicago, where he earned his Masters degree in vocal performance. Ben has stayed connected to GVSU, putting in a semester as a music professor and working another semester or two in the office of the Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance; the Ada Conservatory of Music might also be effectively characterized as a satellite campus.


river tattoo

Jim Cogswell
River Tattoo

River Tattoo | September 24 - October 12, 2014

River Tattoo is a 85' x 8' vinyl mural installed on GVSU's Eberhard Center for ArtPrize in Fall 2014. 

River Tattoo celebrates the Grand River and the Blue Bridge spanning it. It is made from thousands of pieces of adhesive vinyl applied directly to the glass. The vinyl shapes are based on ink drawings of animal-like forms, collages made from adhesive shelf paper, and photographs of ordinary houseplants, digitally hybridized, mirrored, and multiplied. The river flows through it in a pattern of rhythmic lines rising and falling around the bend in the building, with the bridge reflected in them. The mural’s clouds, its flora, its teeming bestiary of creatures both sinister and benign seem to inhabit the world reflected in the glass, suggesting that the space around us is full of possibilities we have not yet begun to imagine.

1st Prize: Julia Gjebic
2nd Prize: Ashlee Busch
3rd Prize: Weston Bernath
Audience Prize: Ashlee Busch

Judges: Christine Chamberlain, Jim Cogswell, Christian Gaines, John Schuster-Craig, Elaine Shay

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1st Place Winner | Julia Gjebic

Julia Gjebic

Composition title: The Velocity of Repetition
Based on the installation titled: River Tattoo

Julia is a doctoral student in oboe performance and in the 2019–2020 season, she will appear with the Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia di Camera, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, and the Illinois Modern Ensemble. She holds graduate degrees from McGill University in Montreal, where she regularly performed with the McGill Symphony Orchestra and worked as a teaching assistant.

2nd Place Winner | Ashlee Busch

Ashlee Busch

Composition title: Stencils
Based on the installation titled: River Tattoo

Ashlee T Busch is a composer, performer, remixer, arranger, and educator based in Mesa, Arizona. Ashlee is currently pursuing her DMA in music composition from Arizona State University where she is a graduate teaching assistant in music theory and aural skills. Ashlee is also adjunct faculty at Scottsdale Community College. Ashlee most enjoys collaborating with other artists in poetry, dance, installation art, video, and more. Such collaborations have included residencies with East Coast and Midwest universities, album production with video game remixing company Materia Collective LLC, publishing with education publisher Leading Tones LLC, and collaborations with ensembles premiering her work across the United States.

3rd Place Winner | Weston Bernath

Weston Bernath

Composition title: Follow the Free Flow
Based on the installation titled: River Tattoo


Weston M-A Bernath earned his bachelor of music education at Grand Valley State University where he studied double bass performance and composition. He is currently finishing his masters of arts in music theory at Western Michigan University, which is scheduled to be completed in April of 2020 along with his thesis, “Metal Mayhem to Music Theory: The Use of Heavy Metal Music in Collegiate Music Theory Instruction”. Bernath is additionally applying for doctoral programs in music theory and composition. His research interests include activity-based music theory education methods, metal music and late Twentieth-Century/ Twenty-first Century music analysis.


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Graceann Warn
The Beauty of Mystery
Oil, encaustic and paper on wood

Great Lakes: Image and Word | January 19 – April 1, 2016

The lakes and water systems of the Great Lakes are a majestic natural resource too little known outside of our region. This exhibit features sixteen poets and visual artists — each with a connection to the Great Lakes — In artistic pairings designed to result in new collaborative works with a Great Lakes theme.
1st Prize: Niko Schroeder
2nd Prize (tie): Niko Schroeder and Jack Sligh
Audience Prize: Niko Schroeder

Judges: Carla Hill, Alexander Miller, John Schuster-Craig, Dale Schriemer, Elaine Shay




comfortably numb archive

Nayda Collazo-Llorens
Comfortably Number
Mixed media

Comfortably Numb | January 16 - March 31, 2017

Comfortably Numb is an ongoing archive consisting of clippings from magazines and other printed matter created by Nayda Collazo-Llorens. Over 2,000 framed images comprise this amalgam of sampled visual information functioning as detritus and fragments of data. The work explores our perceptual engagement with the incessant media overload that we seem to seek and endure.

1st Prize: Niko Schroeder
2nd Prize: Steve Rothstein
3rd Prize (tie): Niko Schroeder and Ray King
Audience Prize: Niko Schroeder

Judges: Beth Gibbs, John Schuster-Craig, Jeremy Kosmicki, Nayda Collazo-Llorens, Marcia Haas




large abstract painting

Herbert Murrie
Notes & Thangs Colors & Bangs
Enamel alkyd, collage, polymer resins on panel

Ebb & Flow: Explorations in Painting by Herbert Murrie | January 18 – March 30, 2018

For over 40 years, Herbert Murrie had a successful advertising and design career based in Chicago. As a result of his artistic upbringing and personal drive, he often returned to the studio in pursuit of a more spontaneous and freeing output. In 1988, Murrie began painting seriously and by the late 1990’s he was exhibiting regularly. Over the next 10 to 15 years evidence of his freed state leapt off the canvas. Controlled manipulation of paint and color bore witness to his understanding of design, while his process of working intuitively noted elements of the artistic movements he grew up with in the mid-20th century.

1st Prize: Reese Rehkopf
2nd Prize (tie): Reese Rehkopf, Tim Lester
Audience Prize: Reese Rehkopf

Judges: Monica Johnstone (Director of GVSU CLAS Communications and Advancement), Carrie Morris (GVSU Associate Professor of Dance), Herbert Murrie (artist), Christine Rener (Director of GVSU Pew FTLC and Vice Provost for Instructional Development and Innovation), John Schuster-Craig (retired GVSU Professor of Music)

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1st Place Winner | Reese Rehkopf

Reese Rehkopf

Composition Title: Upper Atmospheric Lightning
Based on artwork: Thunder and Lightning

Reese Rehkopf has been blessed with a wealth of diverse experiences thanks to music. Over the course of four years at GVSU, Reese performed in the New Music Ensemble, countless jazz combos, and every available large instrumental ensemble. Although he only took composition lessons his senior year, composing quickly became one of his favorite areas of study. Since graduating GVSU, Reese has delved further into composition; branching out into recording and music production. Reese released his first EP, Cutting Teeth, in November. 

​​​​​​​2nd Place Winner | Tim Lester

Struck with Terror by Tim Lester

Composition title: Struck with Terror
Based on artwork: Birds Fly Butterflies Die

Tim Lester is in his fourth year at GVSU. He is the youngest participant in the alumni composition competition. Lester divides his time between two passions: horn and composing/arranging. Usually composing under the pseudonym R. Lewis Lester, his music often showcases a love for the ironic and a whimsical penchant for the bizarre and satirical. His unpredictable style can be easily seen in works such as “I Dream In Memes”, and “Four Unrelated Movements for Sax Quartet”.

3rd Place Winner | Reese Rehkopf

Reese Rehkopf

Composition title: Torrent
Based on artwork: Flow River Roads

Reese Rehkopf has been blessed with a wealth of diverse experiences thanks to music. Over the course of four years at GVSU, Reese performed in the New Music Ensemble, countless jazz combos, and every available large instrumental ensemble. Although he only took composition lessons his senior year, composing quickly became one of his favorite areas of study. Since graduating GVSU, Reese has delved further into composition; branching out into recording and music production. Reese released his first EP, Cutting Teeth, in November. 


lobby of performing arts center, art on wall behind lounge furniture

Artwork in the Lobby Outside Louis Armstrong Theater, GVSU Haas Center for Performing Arts

This collection of artwork is on permanent display outside the Louis Armstrong Theater in the Thomas J. and Marcia J. Haas Center for Performing Arts. It includes prints, paintings, sculptures, and drawings by national, international, and local artists engaging a range of themes from the highly personal or surreal to traditional landscape and portraiture. For this 10th anniversary event alumni composers were invited to submit compositions alongside current students. The two groups were judged separately.

Student Composers:
First Prize: Christian Glascock
Second Prize: Noah Braley
Third Prize: Ray King
Audience Prize: Christian Glascock

Alumni Composers:
First Prize: Reese Rehkopf
Second Prize: Tim Lester
Third Prize: Bradley Saniga
Audience Prize: Reese Rehkopf

Judges: Aaron Doty ((Vice President and General Manager of the Grand Rapids Symphony), Shelley Irwin (host and producer for The WGVU Morning Show), Philomena Mantella (GVSU President), John Schuster-Craig (GVSU Professor Emeritus), and Lazaro Vega (Broadcaster and Jazz Director, Blue Lake Public Radio).

To view a recording of the entire performance visit

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1st Place Winner Student Category | Christian Glascock

recording of Christian Glascock's composition inspired by painting by reynold weidenaar

Composition Title: After the Impact...
Based on Artwork: Portends: The Works of Man by Reynold Weidenaar

Christian Glascock is a senior at GVSU studying music education, and he plays Flute with the GVSU New Music Ensemble. This is his second semester studying composition under Dr. Ryan. Before his time in the composition studio, he wrote music as a hobby throughout high school and into his time here at GVSU. Along with the GVSU New Music Ensemble, he is also a part of the GVSU Wind Symphony and the GVSU Orchestra. Other than composing, he enjoys listening to music, creating music with his friends and colleagues, and experiencing different mediums of art. He also enjoys nature, and being engulfed in its wonderfully organic environment. In the summer of 2021, he went on a national park tour with the GVSU New Music Ensemble and really enjoyed premiering music across the eastern United States.

2nd Place Winner Student Category | Noah Braley

music composed by Noah Braley inspired by painting of globe with three hummingbirds circling it

Composition Title: a warning of our world's demise.
Artwork: Globe and Hummingbirds by David Kroll

Noah Braley is a GVSU percussion student who is pursuing a bachelor’s in music performance. He began dabbling into composition and improvisation during high school and began studying the former in the fall of 2020. In addition to composing, he also performs in a variety of ensembles at Grand Valley, including the Wind Symphony, New Music Ensemble, and Steel Drum Band. Noah is in his fourth semester studying composition, and hopes to go to graduate school for either percussion or composition after he graduates. Outside of music, Noah enjoys hiking, playing board games, and cooking.

3rd Place Winner Student Category | Ray King

music composed by Ray King inspired by lithograph poster by Henri Toulouse Lautrec

Composition Title: Divan Japonais
Artwork: Divan Japonais by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Ray King has been studying music and music composition part time as a non-degree student at GVSU since 2002. His early interest was electro-acoustic music, which he studied with Dr. Chin Chin Chen (2002 - 2004). Notational composition studies with Dr. Kurt Ellenburger followed, and then Dr. Bill Ryan. Due to his intense interest in music making, he chose other music subjects of interest to him such as music theory, music literature, music orchestration, counterpoint, and singing as a baritone in GVSU's Varsity Men and the University Singers. After being self-employed for 32 years, he now works at Holland Home in the ground maintenance department. He is also a roadie for the GVSU New Music Ensemble and travels with them regularly to really cool and far away places.

1st Place Winner Alumni Category | Reese Rehkopf

music composed by Reese Rehkopf inspired by black splatter painting on pink background

Composition Title: Mitochondria
Artwork: Big Science by Susanne Doremus

Reese Rehkopf has been blessed with a wealth of diverse experiences thanks to music. Over the course of four years at GVSU, Reese performed in the New Music Ensemble, countless jazz combos, and every available large instrumental ensemble. Although he only took composition lessons his senior year, composing quickly became one of his favorite areas of study. Since graduating GVSU, Reese has delved further into composition, branching out into recording and music production. Reese released his first EP, Cutting Teeth, in November. Reese balances the emotional and mental taxation of being a musician with his more visceral lifelong passion: strength sports. Reese plans to participate in his first powerlifting meet soon and is actively pursuing a world record in weighted calisthenics.

2nd Place Winner Alumni Category | Tim Lester

music composed by Tim Lester inspired by an abstract black, red, and white painting

Music Composition: Into Focus
Artwork: The Time Between by Cyril Lixenberg

Tim Lester is a freelance performer and composer based currently out of Holland, Michigan. He earned his Bachelor of Music in horn performance from Grand Valley State University in the Spring of 2020. Though briefly a resident and student in upstate New York, a twist of fate combined with the instability of the covid-19 pandemic brought him first home, and then to the Coast Guard reserve. He now divides his time between freelance performing, routine exercise, and composing at home. When not actively working on these things, his major hobbies include long-distance road trips, watching the Green Bay Packers play alongside his family, and the board game Axis and Allies. He has studied horn with Richard Britsch and Alex Shuhan and composition with Dr. Bill Ryan and Ale Miller.

3rd Place Winner Alumni Category | Bradley Saniga

music composed by Bradley Saniga inspired by painting of post-apocalyptic factory

Composition Title: Portends: The Works of Man
Artwork: Portends: The Works of Man by Reynold Weidenaar

Bradley Saniga was awarded a Master's in Music Education from Michigan State University in 2019. He has been happily married to Jera Leffring for over eight years and enjoys singing and playing with his three sons and one daughter. Bradley has continued to write music for marching bands, solo and ensemble, and his high school choir. Although he enjoys many hobbies; cooking is his favorite.

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Page last modified February 13, 2023