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Composition Competition

Composition Competition

Royal Holloway Composition Competition

Composition Competition We are delighted to announce the 22/23 iteration of our Composition Competition, for composers in years 10-13, to have your music workshopped by our musical theatre experts at Royal Holloway.

Royal Holloway Young Composer Competition

Are you a composer in Year 10 to 13 interested in writing for Musical Theatre? 


Do you want to hear your music workshopped by our current musical theatre students and resident experts? 


Royal Holloway is launching a composition competition for young composers. The winners of this competition will have their scenes workshopped and appraised by our Musical Theatre experts Dr Tom Parkinson and Prof. Dan Rebellato. 


The Brief

  • Write a musical theatre scene, for our students to perform.
  • The scene should last between 3 and 6 minutes in length and contain one song.
  • It should be for a maximum of two protagonists and a small, two-part mixed chorus 
  • The language should be in English, with your own text (or text supplied by a credited author)
  • It should be written for piano accompaniment, even if a piano reduction from a larger ensemble


The Competition

There are two categories, based on age:

Year 10/11 (i.e. aged between 15 and 16 on 31 August 2023)

Year 12/13 (i.e. aged between 17 and 18 on 31 August 2023)

Three winners will be chosen from each category. The winning compositions will receive feedback from one of the professional composers at the Royal Holloway Music Department.


The winning compositions will then be invited to our campus for our workshop afternoon. The scenes will be workshopped and discussed with our current cohort of musical theatre students, and Dr Parkinson and Prof. Rebellato. 


You should submit your composition as a notated score.


Dates and Timeline

The deadline for sending us your compositions is 23:59 on Friday 6 January 2023.

The workshop afternoon for winning entrants will be held on a Saturday in March 2023. 

Some small travel bursaries are available and will be awarded based on need.


Download an application form here


Profile: Tom Parkinson


Profile: Dan Rebellato


The Royal Holloway Department of Music is one of the largest in the UK, offering a very broad and diverse range of courses, all taught by expert scholars. We are the only Music department in the country to hold a prestigious Regius Professorship, awarded by Her Majesty The Queen. Ranked among the top Music departments in the UK for both our teaching and our research, we also benefit from a vibrant creative campus community. Our Music and Theatre degree pathway is particularly popular with students interested in Musical Theatre, with our professional connections to major venues like the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House. 


For any queries, please email our head of admissions:

  • song structure: traditionally, most musical theatre songs are in AABA form, but this might be changing with new musicals. Think about how the form can help you tell the story.
  • narrative: unlike in pop music, musical songs often end in a different situation to where they started. Think about how the performer(s) might discover something new as they sing.
  • identity: one of the hardest things to get right is the balance between developing new musical ideas and maintaining the central 'feel' of the song. Think about how many melodic ideas the story needs.
  • style: increasingly, musical style is used to complement or reinforce what the song is about. Think about how the style of music you are using can help to convey the message of the song. 
  • motivation: songs are often used to signify a change in mood such as heightened emotion or renewed resolve. Think about how the song flows in and out of dialogue.
  • character: musical theatre, songs need to be sung by a particular person or particular people. Think about why these people are singing, what the song reveals about them, and how you can reveal their character and desires through music and lyrics. 

1.      “What do you look for when choosing a text to set to music?”

Friendly vowels and exciting consonants! Try singing the words on one note to have a feel for what your performers will experience from them.

Remember a text can be anything from an instruction manual to a poem to a string of words randomly extracted from the dictionary!

The text also needs to be out of copyright if the music will be performed publicly. Usually this means that the author (and translator if applicable) died over 70 years ago. [Or you can ask for permission from the copyright holder.]


2.      “What makes good word-setting?”

Think about which words you would like to emphasise. Don't be afraid of repeating them! 

Consider whether you are writing a syllabic setting (one syllable per note) or a melismatic setting (lots of notes on one syllable), or a mixture, and why. 

Remember that when you set a text, you are essentially sharing your interpretation of it. You can make your own edit of the text, too. For example, shortening it if it is too long, or omitting lines that you feel are less important or less singable.


3.      “How do you write effective accompaniment for a choir?”

Think about the magical sonorities you can find on the piano and explore the instrument imaginatively, rather than doubling the material that the choir is singing. Sometimes less is more!


4.      “How can I give my piece a satisfying structure?” (this might intersect with questions of text structure)

There are so many possibilities here. Try making a storyboard or plan that helps you to visualise the shape of your composition. You can add the text and other information to this plan as you develop your exciting ideas. You're encouraged to explore unfamiliar structures, too. 

5.      “What do I need to bear in mind when writing for choir?” (this could include spatial questions, questions of textures/effects, breathing space, common pitfalls, etc.)

Make sure you know the ranges of the voices. Avoid asking the singers to sing at the very top or very bottom of their range for long periods of time. 

Try singing the part yourself to check if it's really singable. 

6.      Anything else

Have fun with it! Try new things, and explore the voice's potential. You might like to think about creating contrasts (in dynamics/texture/timbre/harmony) that help articulate your structure as well as making some bold and daring moments. 


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