International festival recognizes 2009 alumna’s music composition

November 30, 2009

Summa cum laude graduate Justine Koontz thought she couldn’t be any happier when she learned that one of her recent choral works was selected out of submissions from all over the world for the International Festival of Women Composers. Then she found out that the original composition, “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” was chosen to be one the pieces performed at the festival’s opening-night concert.

“It’s validation,” Koontz says. “Getting accepted tells me the work I’ve been doing is good and that someone wants to use it.”

Koontz arranged "Follow the Drinking Gourd" in an independent study with Music Professor Margaret Boudreaux in the fall of 2008, and subsequently conducted the premier performance of the work herself at the spring 2009 college choir concert and then again at Baccalaureate in May.

For Boudreaux, working with Koontz on “choral arranging and choral conducting last year was the epitome of teaching in a liberal arts setting.

“We explored the meaning of texts, historical contexts, sociological significances of different singing styles and repertoire, stylistic options for setting different texts, appropriate approaches to interpretation, teaching styles to help singers come to understand the many layers of meaning as deeply as possible, and future possibilities for Justine's creative endeavors,” Boudreaux says.

When Koontz arrived on campus in the fall of 2005 she had no formal training in music.

At McDaniel, the honor student was able to study a wide range of topics, not all in music, and began to study composing. When she took Boudreaux’s conducting class during the spring of her senior year, she knew she couldn’t do without either one – she was determined to learn all that she could about composing and conducting.

Since graduating Phi Beta Kappa in May 2009 with a concentration in Theory and Composition and the Music Department's 1938 Award as Outstanding Senior, Koontz has been composing. A lot.

“Music is what I do. I would like to achieve artistic satisfaction. A certain amount of notoriety would be nice too,” Koontz quips.

Her mentor believes those goals are well within her reach.

“I look forward to seeing Justine's career unfold in the coming years, and all she will contribute to the music world,” Boudreaux says.

Meanwhile, Koontz is collecting experiences – taking private lessons with Judah Adashi, who teaches composing at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute and joining the Baltimore Composer’s Forum. The Children’s Chorus of Carroll County is considering using several of her compositions in a future concert.

“Every experience that you have is part of the creative ether that you draw from,” she says.

The International Festival of Women Composers, sponsored by the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Department of Music, is March 17-20. The opening night concert will be at 8 p.m. March 17.

The topics of interest to this, the festival’s 20th anniversary, are piano repertoire by women composers, women's contributions to world musical cultures, women's contributions to American musical genres, such as jazz, pop, spiritual and folk and collaborations between women composers and choreographers.