High school seniors often think about leaving what has been the main focus of their lives for four years.
Bethel Park’s Garrett Hoffman made his imminent departure the focus of an award-winning choral piece.
The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association selected his “Where Will I Go?” as tops in the high school category for the group’s 2017-2018 composition contest. The Lebanon Valley College Choir will perform the piece during the PMEA’s state conference in April.
When Garrett decided on a theme for his contest entry, he looked online for inspiration and found it almost instantly in a poem called “Leaving” by New York children’s author and writing teacher Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.
“I was looking for something a lot more upbeat and happy, and the tone is very, very dark. But I still really, really like the poem,” he explained. “I contacted the poet and said, ‘Would you mind if I write a song using your poem?’ And she got back to me within hours.”
Garrett also entered the PMEA contest last year with a composition titled “Sea of Green,” and although it wasn’t selected as winner, the piece was one of seven written by students performed during the Washington County Chorus Festival at Chartiers-Houston High School in February.
He even had the opportunity to address his fellow music enthusiasts about the song.
“I went in and talked about how I wrote it, and some people asked me questions. They recognized me at the concert,” he said, mentioning another perk: “They gave me a nice little gift card.”
His interest in music began early, and by fourth grade he was playing percussion.
“I didn’t originally start out writing my own things,” he recalled. “I started with arranging, taking existing songs and rewriting them, which is what I did for Christmas. ‘Up On the House Top’ or something like that, everyone knows how that goes, but I made my own version of it.”
Eventually, he transitioned into penning full compositions, a process that can be protracted.
“I know there are some composers who will sit down and not eat, sleep, drink or whatever for three days straight and get something done. I am not that way,” Garrett admitted. “It takes me a very, very long time, slaving over little details, and I’ll skip this part, come back to that part.”
“Where Will I Go?” took about two months to complete, he said, aided by his taking an independent study in music.
“Every sixth period, I had 40 minutes to sit down and write. It was fantastic,” he said. “I also was able to take advantage of the time I was given to expand on ideas that I’ve had for years.”
For example, he has written a theme-and-variations composition based on the colors of the rainbow, a longer composition that originally clocked in at eight-and-a-half minutes.
After he does leave high school, Garrett plans to study music education.
“I love kids, and I would be fine teaching an orchestra, a jazz band, a choir, a concert band, marching band,” he said. “I think I’m comfortable in all those areas, and I’m totally willing to teach at any level, from K to college.”