Junior high composer is tops in Iowa

Pacey Kane turns 'little melody' into a full band composition


Like many students in the North Scott School District, Pacey Kane began band in seventh grade.

However, Pacey took his musical education one step further, and by the end of his eighth-grade year, he became an award-winning composer.

Pacey’s piece, “The Forest of Sihir,” premiered at the North Scott combined band concert in The Pit on May 7. Over the summer, he learned that he had won the Iowa Composers Forum’s Student Composition Contest in the middle school division, which came with a $100 cash prize.

“When I first started writing it, I was just messing around,” he said.  “I made this little melody, but then I kept adding on more and more to it, and it became the long song that we played.”

Pacey primarily used a computer program called Flat to help build the piece.

“It basically let you select how long the note was, what the pitch was. And I just had to do that for every single note. It took a while, but the website sounded pretty cool.”

Pacey began writing towards the end of his seventh-grade year, and eventually brought the beginnings of his composition to seventh-grade band teacher Nicolas Propes.

“Mr. Propes said he was expecting like, ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ or whatever,” said Pacey.  “He was pretty shocked when he saw it.”

“I was excited when Pacey first told me he was writing a piece, because I love to see students get excited about music,” said Propes. “I fully expected a very simple melody and maybe some basic chords (and I would have been happy to see that), so when he sent me what he was working on, and I was amazed how layered it was and how much time and thought he had put into it at that point, I was absolutely floored!

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised that he wanted to compose something – students who are excited about making music often try to write a melody of their own for their instrument. But I was very surprised by the quality of what he had written to that point.” 

“I’m always happy when students want to write a piece,” added eighth-grade band director Ashley Knobloch. “Usually they quickly figure out how difficult it can be, and come to us with a simple melody written on notebook paper, which is a great start.

“The fact that Pacey had a fully formed work for band shocked me. The thought he put into each instrument’s part showed the knowledge of someone who had been doing this for years!

‘I wasn’t surprised that he wanted to write something. Students who enjoy band and music often endeavor to do a little composing. I will give credit to Mr. Propes for getting Pacey excited about music, and programming concert pieces that the students connected with and were proud to perform. That is usually the catalyst for more in-depth exploration of the world of composing and performing.”

Pacey continued work over the summer before his eighth-grade year, sometimes to the consternation of family members who didn’t necessarily know what he was up to.

“I felt a little sheepish,” said his grandfather, Rocky Kane. “He’s over at my house a lot, and I would walk by and see him on his (computer) and say, ‘hey, do something constructive.’ And then I find out he’s been composing the whole time.

“He did start sharing with me the little ditties and then he would add an instrument, and he would add more to the song. So, we heard bits and pieces over time. He put a lot of time into this.”

Pacey said he figured out many of the aspects of composing by looking at pieces the band was playing. “I looked at the music we played in the past and saw how that was constructed. I saw how it worked, the ranges of the instruments, and put that into my song.” He described the experience as a combination of “fun and challenging.”

Pacey plays trombone, so he was used to only reading music in a certain range.

“That was really difficult. I had to learn to read the different types of sheet music. I’ve only read bass clef. And there’s a bunch of stuff, like transposing instruments, that got really complicated. I understood it after a while.”

In addition to working on the computer, Pacey also relied on his teacher’s feedback.

“He shared the piece with us at various stages of his writing process, and we gave some basic feedback about what would and wouldn’t be possible for an eighth-grade band – mostly instrument ranges,” said Propes. “Mrs. Knobloch did help a bit with the percussion parts because there are some specifics that he didn’t know about those instruments, but the notes and rhythms were all his work.”

The final piece was named “The Forest of Sihir.”

“Sihir means magic, so I kind of imagine you’re walking through this magical forest and there’s a little village with dwarves or whatever, and a bunch of magical stuff in it,” said Pacey.

As the band began to practice the piece for the spring concert, Pacey was able to finally hear his work come to fruition.

“It was pretty cool, because on the website it doesn’t really sound like real instruments. When everyone played it, it was really cool to hear my work that I’d been working on for a while.”

The result was a four-minute work for brass, woodwind and percussion, that was dedicated to Knobloch and the North Scott band program.

However, Pacey remained low-key about the endeavor, to the point that many of his classmates didn’t realize he wrote the piece until Propes announced it at the May 7 concert.

“Mr. Propes gave this speech about how a student had written it,” said Pacey. “I didn’t hear much because I was about to pass out, but the audience was really supportive and clapped at the end.”

The clapping resulted in a sustained standing ovation from the crowd and members of the band.

Propes and Knobloch said they both felt complete pride in Pacey throughout the process.

“I was so proud, excited and honored to work on this piece with him, and putting it together with our bands,” said Knobloch. “The fact that I got to conduct a world-premiere of a piece that was written for this specific group of musicians was pretty incredible. I feel like Pacey became a little bit of a celebrity in those last couple months of school.”

“At every stage of the process, I was just so proud of what he was able to create,” said Propes.

Entering the piece in the Iowa Composers Forum was another idea from Propes.

“Mr. Propes showed it to me.,” said Pacey.  I wasn’t sure anyone was going to hear the song, except for me. So being able to share it was really cool.”

Rocky Kane gives Propes and Knobloch credit for getting Pacey interested in music. “They really have their hearts in it.”

Now settling into his freshman year, Pacey said he’s looking forward to “being able to play more music and have fun with friends” He said it’s likely that he will take more music theory classes as they are offered, and he added, “I really want to start writing more pieces.”

Propes and Knobloch are both thrilled with Pacey’s success.

“He’s a great kid with a great future,” said Propes. “I am so proud of his accomplishments and am grateful to have had him as a student in my class.”

“Pacey is one of the most positive students I’ve ever taught,” added Knobloch. “He always came into class with enthusiasm and energy that couldn’t help but brighten your day. I hope he continues to perform and compose music for many years!”

A performance of “The Forest of Sihir” can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=ly4nWcRV6iE.



Pacey Kane, North Scott Junior High, North Scott Music Department, Iowa Composers Forum, Nicolas Propes, Ashley Knobloch, Rocky Kane