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The Harvard Student Composers Festival Showcases Harvard’s Student Talent

CompFest Graphic
CompFest Graphic By Courtesy of The Office For the Arts at Harvard
By Alisa S. Regassa, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard Student Composers Festival took place Dec. 2 - Dec. 5. Sponsored by the Office for the Arts, Harvard University Department of Music, Harvard Composers Association, and the Harvard Undergraduate Songwriters Collective, the 2020 CompFest was a four-day event that sought to highlight student composers of all different musical genres and concentrations. Panelists ranged from up and coming Harvard alumni to high profile guest artists, and students all across the college signed up to perform.

The festival kicked off on Wednesday, Dec. 2 with a Keynote speaker dialogue between three artists: jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman ’91, Cuban-born conductor Tania León, and newly ascended artistic director Rhiannon Giddens, moderated by Harvard’s chair of the Department of Music, Ingrid Monson. The primary objective was to foster a conversation about the compositional process as a pretext for the students who were about to showcase their own creations.

“Now is the time [students] can create,” said the OFA production coordinator, Dana E. Knox, on the topic of this discussion. “This dialogue demystifies the process of how you can compose if you haven’t had the experience before, and what resources are available here at Harvard to help you.”

The following three days featured three “Spotlight Series” events with nine original compositions by Harvard College students, moderated by various faculty respondents. The idea was to create a platform for artists to perform and connect with a wider community after months of isolation.

“You are never going to know whether the music works, and if it’s getting across what you want to get across if you haven’t had a conversation with an audience,” said Joy B. Nesbitt ’21, a student composer who will be presenting her new album made during quarantine. “I feel lucky to be able to share my stuff with the Harvard community as I’m getting ready to release my album. It’s a really good opportunity to allow people to get to know what kind of stuff I’m making. It will help me out in the long run.”

“Most of us do this because we love playing for people and sharing with the world,” said programming director Veronica F. Leahy ‘23, reflecting on the adverse effects of the pandemic on the performance scene. Being an artist herself, Leahy said she is feeling the absence of artistic outlets first hand.

“Sometimes we forget that people are still being creative, right now.”

“It’s really heartwarming that we’re going to see 30 young composers all showing us how they’re actually a beacon for us, that we can still be creative, and that something good can come out of this situation,” Leahy said.

Staying true to its celebratory spirit, the event closed out with a Cabaret night on Saturday, Dec. 5, featuring more than twenty original compositions performed by students in a grand finale to the program.

“Our guiding principle for the whole festival is really keeping it open to all genres of music,” said Leahy. “The Cabaret is designed to be an event where we can really reflect all of the creative diversity at Harvard. We’re going to have musical theater pieces, contemporary classical pieces, jazz pieces, RNB, folk, we got stuff from all of the musical spectrum.”

At the heart of the wide range of talent lies a fundamental belief rooted in diversity and representation, reflects Knox. “This is accessible to anybody, at any experience level, to start expressing themselves.”

— Staff Writer Alisa S. Regassa can be reached at

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