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The Purple Tide

The student news site of Chantilly High School (Chantilly, VA)

The Purple Tide

The student news site of Chantilly High School (Chantilly, VA)

The Purple Tide

Student Spotlight: Lao creates award-winning composition

Lao at the Virginia Music Educators Association Conference held in Richmond, Virginia this past November.
Used with permission of Mikayla Lao
Lao at the Virginia Music Educators Association Conference held in Richmond, Virginia this past November.

When composing new music, senior Mikayla Lao starts with a simple melody that plays over and over in her head. 

“I first started [composing] around 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic,” Lao said. “My piano teacher at the time was like ‘hey, you should try composing.’”

At the time, Lao had little experience composing, so her piano teacher suggested that she start with a chord progression, and then compose on top of that. Soon, Lao had written several pieces of music, composing the melodies using online music software such as Noteflight. 

“I like composing because it’s just fun,” Lao said. “It’s a way to express my ideas and my creativity. Sometimes I have something stuck in my head and then I write it out because I can’t just let it sit in my head forever. Even if no one else is gonna see it, I just write it out.

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Orchestra teacher Aaron Mynes first heard short compositions from Lao during the COVID-19 pandemic, when school was online, which he thought were catchy.

“Then when we were in person, that’s when I heard her playing the piano,” Mynes said. “It was not a piece I recognized, but it was lovely.”

When Mynes asked who wrote the piece, Lao said she had written it and Mynes said “[I was] floored. She progressed beyond just a piano piece to multiple instruments.”

Although Lao plays violin and piano, in her compositions she has written parts for piano, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, French horns, trumpets, trombones, tubas, harps, violins, violas, cellos, and basses.

“[Mikayla] is very accomplished,” Lao’s fellow violinist and stand partner, senior Vincent Nguyen, said. “Piano, violin, [she] took music theory last year and excelled. Very musically deft and very in tune. [She’s] definitely got it.”

During high school, Lao has had the opportunity to hear her pieces played by the orchestra and made adjustments to her compositions based on those experiences. The CHS orchestra performed what Lao considers to be her best piece, “La Noche Escarlata,” at the Halloween concert on Oct. 26, 2023. The composition is a Spanish, Flamenco style piece in A Phrygian mode, and is partly inspired by 19th Century composer Pablo de Sarasate’s piece “Carmen Fantasy.”

Lao submitted “La Noche Escarlata” to the 2023 Virginia Student Composition Festival in Richmond, which is part of an annual music conference sponsored by the Virginia Music Educators Association.

“I encouraged Mikayla to submit [the piece] for the live performance and told her that if it was accepted, I would find a way to get our orchestra to perform it,” Mynes said.

Two weeks prior to the November conference, Lao was notified that her piece was chosen and it was performed by members of the CHS orchestra. Many who have heard Lao’s piece have been surprised that it was composed by a high school student. According to Mynes, a composition professor from Randolph-Macon College emailed him to compliment the orchestra’s performance and ask if the piece was available for other groups to perform.

Lao hopes to continue studying music composition in college and her teachers at CHS are impressed by what she has already accomplished during high school.

“She’s just amazing and I’m really proud of her,” Mynes said. “And really, really glad that we were able to [perform her piece] and share this with the wider world, wider community.”

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Gaby Gutierrez, Editor-in-Chief
Gaby Gutierrez is a senior in her third year with The Purple Tide. Gaby loves to watch reality TV with her brother, play Scattegories with her family, watch rom-coms, discover new hobbies and listen to Billy Joel and the Smiths. Currently, her favorite shows are New Girl, Ted Lasso and Only Murders in the Building.
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