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Columbus teen wins top prize in national competition for electronic music composition

·4 min read

After listening to his electronic music composition titled “Run Away,” Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts ninth-grader Jackson Laird told the Ledger-Enquirer that it reminded him of the “hundreds of times” his computer crashed during the process.

But he persevered enough for the composition to win a national award.

Jackson, 13, finished first in the grades K-8 category of the National Association for Music Education 2021 electronic music composition competition, which he entered in March as an eighth-grader.

The judges selected the winners based on “aesthetic quality, use of electronic media and the power of the composition,” which was limited to 5 minutes, according to the NafME news release.

When he read the emailed announcement, Jackson had to tone down his reaction because he was in class.

“I was just kind of like, ‘Oh, cool. I won,’” he said. “Of course, it was a big deal, but I didn’t treat it as one.”

Jackson received honorable mention in last year’s competition, so winning this year, he said, was affirmation “that my music is good.”

Just ask his piano teacher, Sam Brown, who noted Jackson participated in summer composition programs at the Manhattan School of Music and New York University.

“While he is only a freshman in high school, I believe these recent recognitions and invitations for further study are the types of validation that will propel Jackson to seriously consider studying music in higher education and explore career options,” Brown, the Rainey-McCullers magnet coordinator and fine arts department chairman, told the L-E in an email. “I count it a tremendous privilege to be one of Jackson’s music instructors at RMSOTA.”

Although he doesn’t have a certain job in mind, Jackson hopes to eventually work in the music industry. His favorite music genres are classical and electronic.

As for his favorite composer, Jackson said, “It changes day to day, depending on what I’ve been listening to.”

Jackson said he worked on “Run Away” for about 35 hours over three weeks. Despite winning the top prize, he insists could have done better.

“I notice like a lot of problems with the way it’s mixed that I would want to fix,” he said. “Too much compression. Everything sounds smooshed together.”

But when his work meets his standard, Jackson said, he tells himself, “Yes, I made this. I like this. I’m proud of being able to do that.”

How he got started, developed talent

Jackson has been composing music since he was 8. He started with the computer program used by his father, Brad Laird, to typeset music for his music book business.

“He had all this software that he let me mess around with,” Jackson said. “… I just liked doing it and did a lot of it.”

In fact, he notated the music in one of his dad’s books, “Christmas Songs for Mandolin,” using that software, his mother, Darlene Laird, told the L-E.

Such dedication elevates Jackson’s talent, Brown emphasized.

“You can find many young people who are serious about their music study — they apply themselves during practice time to learn new techniques and repertoire, and they take lessons with experts in their field — but, there is a smaller group of students who enjoy making and creating music to the point where it holds a central position in their life,” he said. “Jackson is certainly in this second group, and I believe that’s one of the reasons he’s been so prolific at a young age.”

Darlene is grateful the Muscogee County School District has an arts school for students in grades 6-12. Their family moved from Americus to Columbus so he could attend, she said.

“Rainey-McCullers has been an amazing opportunity for Jackson and for many other children in the community who have a passion for the arts,” she told the L-E in an email. “… It is an excellent school, with amazing teachers and staff, and Jackson is very happy there.”

When contacted by the L-E, NafME declined to provide details about the cash prize given to winners, why Jackson was selected as a winner and the number of entrants.

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