Hanford High junior's choral piece wins award

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldMay 5, 2013 

Hannah Fulton didn't write her first musical composition at age 5 like Mozart did.

She waited until she was 10.

Since then, a bounty of music has been running rampant in her head.

Her newest choral composition -- titled Sunrise -- took top honors recently at the Student Choral Composer Awards Program, sponsored by the professional choral ensemble Opus 7, based in Seattle. She wrote the lyrics as well as the music.

The win means Hannah's music will be performed by Opus 7 on Saturday at St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle. She also earned the opportunity to spend an afternoon with composer John Muehleisen and Opus 7 maestro Loren Ponten.

Music has been Hannah's heart and soul for as long as she can remember, and her parents, John and Jennie Fulton, have always encouraged their daughter to pursue happiness.

"Composing has always been an important part of my life," Hannah said. "It is my creative outlet and it helps me express myself and communicate my feelings and ideas to others.

"Sunrise represents the beauty of the sun rising as well as the dawning of all things new, like the new beginning that always waits to greet us in dark times and the glory of good triumphing over evil in the world."

Hannah, 17, of Richland, plays multiple instruments -- including bassoon, flute and saxophone -- but it's the piano that drives her passion.

She began taking piano lessons from Richland teacher Onnie Adams when she was 8 years old. The lessons have been as much a joy for Adams as they have for Hannah.

"From the beginning, Hannah had this delightful attitude that music is something to be enjoyed," Adams said. "Her father is also a good pianist and played his favorite classical pieces for her from the time she was tiny.

"I would have to say her parents have surrounded her with support for all things musical. So if music is to be a joy, Hannah figured this out at an early age."

Hannah's first two compositions were written for piano when she was 10. She didn't title the first, but the second is called Sea Dance. The following year, at age 11, she composed Changing the World Slowly, written for piano, flute and saxophone. She wrote Reflections for piano at age 13, followed by Afternoon Soliloquy at age 15.

Soliloquy earned her a second-place win in the Washington State Young Composer Project competition, and she performed the piece for the Washington State Music Teachers 2012 Conference recital in Bellingham.

The Hanford High junior also found inspiration from her high school band teacher, Kevin Swisher.

"Mr. Swisher encouraged Hannah to write Sunrise and submit it to the Opus 7 contest," Adams said. "When Hannah brought her finished composition to her lesson to show me, I was enthralled with what she had done. Her musicality and sensitivity to all music is apparent, along with her poetry in this winning creation."

Swisher says Hannah is an extraordinary young woman and musician.

"Not only is she an outstanding performer, but she is a student with outstanding personal character, integrity and maturity," Swisher said. "She is capable of managing her time well to ensure great academic success (she has a 3.9 GPA) while still creating ample time to practice bassoon and piano and compose.

"I think it is fair to admit that when Hannah decided to commit to (writing) a piece of music intended for this choral composition competition through Opus 7, neither she nor I expected her to create a piece that would receive so much recognition. It truly sounds amazing."

Hannah is thrilled to have won the contest and to have her composition performed publicly. But she remains shy and unassuming about her talent, always giving credit to the people who inspired.

"Whenever I write, I'm usually just sitting at the piano," Hannah said. "Which is what I was doing when Sunrise happened. I heard a musical sound that stuck with me, so I just went with it. I'm always hearing melodies in my head."

When she travels with her family and piano teacher to Seattle on Mother's Day weekend to hear Opus 7 perform Sunrise, it won't be the first time she hears it performed. The Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, under the direction of Justin Raffa, gave Hannah a preview.

"Her teacher, Kevin Swisher, asked us to give Hannah the opportunity to experience her piece live ahead of time," Raffa said. "We were fascinated at Hannah's ability to write for singers. I think we gave her the opportunity to go deeper into her work and understand that as a composer, despite her age and experience, she should feel comfortable being an equal participant in the music-making process alongside a professional-level ensemble."

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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