Three Hobbs girls were among a group of 17 students who won a recent statewide song-writing contest.
Ivory Heister, JoeLi Evans and Emily Townsend composed melodies and lyrics which were performed by Albuquerque choral groups after being turned into professional arrangements.
Emily and JoeLi sang their original songs in front of hundreds during a November concert at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, then sat back and listened to a professional choir’s rendition of the pieces. In the meantime, Heister joined members of the Albuquerque Civic Chorus as they performed her composition, “Stand Up and Move.” It was the second time for Heister to be selected for the prestigious “Hey Mozart” contest, an impressive feat given that she competed against past winners – termed “master” composers. Only two pieces were selected for professional arrangement in that category.
“I think the fact that three Hobbs students were chosen was fantastic because the contest was open to the whole state and there were more than 250 submissions,” said Amanda Heister.
Not only is Heister Ivory’s mother, she’s also a music teacher at Stone and Jefferson Elementary schools. In addition, Ivory’s father is music minister at First Baptist Church.
As it turns out, all three girls have a musical background. Country music is a staple, for instance, at JoeLi’s house: her mother competed in several singing competitions in her younger years and her great uncle recorded a country album. And Emily’s grandmother is Carol Barnes, who retired from HHS after being choir director for 11 years.
“I was in tears when (Emily was performing) her song,” Barnes said of that Albuquerque concert attended by Hobbs family members. “To know that the music was coming from within her and she feels music so deeply…”
Given their backgrounds, it’s no surprise that Emily, Ivory and JoeLi stepped up to the musical plate without hesitation when Heister challenged all of her students to enter the statewide contest.
“What I did was take a little bit of one of the songs I’d already written and combined it with another one,” Emily said. She named her composition “Bells,” and hummed it as Heister recorded the melody on an audiotape that was later sent to the “Hey Mozart” judges. (The same technique was used for all of the Hobbs entries).
Evans, in the meantime, was inspired by her dog, Charlie. She admits she wrote the words to “Little Puppy” while sitting in church listening to a sermon, then spent a couple weeks coming up with a melody to accompany the words.
“Really, the words are not as important as the melody because it’s the melody that the professional composers have to turn into a full arrangement,” Heister explained. “Whether it had words or not, they would have selected JoeLi’s song because you could tell it had a structure to it – it wasn’t just random.”
“I thought the same thing,” added JoeLi’s mom, Christina Evans. “I didn’t hear it until she won - but when she sang it for me, I thought the piece had depth to it. I was quite impressed.”
Ivory, in the meantime, had a difficult time picking a composition to submit. (She recorded three entries for judges). The Houston 7th-grader said she constantly writes songs, something that might be traced to a troubled childhood before she and her brother were placed in foster care with the Heisters – who eventually adopted them.
“I write songs all the time,” Ivory said. “It’s like - when I get angry or mad or I’m feeling really happy – I sit down and feel like I need to write a song. It just flows. It just comes out.”
After “Hey Mozart” selected the winning melodies, the organization hired the professional composers to write arrangements suitable for choral or instrumental performance.
JoeLi and Emily sang their original version acappella during the concert, then sat in a chair on stage as the Choral Artists of the Southwest performed the new arrangements – accompanied by a piano.
Listening to a melody she previously had heard only in her head was a proud moment for Emily. “Not a lot of 11-year-olds get to experience that,” she said frankly.
And while it was also a proud moment for JoeLi to be on stage, there was some disappointment in her arrangement. “It sounded more like an opera and I’d written it Country-western,” the Stone fifth-grader admitted.
Ivory likewise had a mixed reaction to her final arrangement. While it was slower than the upbeat tempo she envisioned, the fact that she was selected a second time as a finalist has only deepened her musical intent.
“When I get older, I want to be a professional song writer,” Ivory said. “I just wrote a song last night and last weekend. I have a song book that’s filled up.”
The same is true for Emily who makes song-writing reminders on a calendar each evening. “My songs happen mostly by accident, like when I’m playing around on the piano,” she said. “Music for a lot of people is something that they try and get frustrated at and give up on. (I’ve learned) if you give up, you lose something very valuable.”
JoeLi, in the meantime, looks forward to next year’s contest and, like her two friends, continues to write songs. But she no longer composes during church sermons. “I have a desk in my room where I write now,” she laughed.