By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun
10:12 PM EST, December 6, 2012
Polly Moser drew inspiration from watching rivers flowing down the mountains during a family hiking trip to California and Nevada.
The Burleigh Manor Middle School seventh-grader crafted her first full composition, "The Flow of Water," and entered it in an annual National PTA competition. Polly's work won the top national honor for music composition in May and will be among the works exhibited at the U.S. Department of Education.
The contest, Reflections, draws entries from hundreds of thousands of students across the country in the categories of music composition, dance choreography, film production, literature, photography and visual arts.
"I came up with an idea for it, and I played how I imagined the sound to be," said Polly. "My piano teacher has told me that you start with a simple melody, anything you want to do that sounds interesting. I just started out by playing a couple of notes on the piano. From there, I added different techniques I had learned in music and music theory throughout the years."
Polly, 12, entered her work in the music composition last school year. Students compete at their respective schools, where winners and runners-up move on to the county, state and national levels. When Polly finished second in the county, she figured her work had no shot at state accolades, much less national.
Officials at the national level of the 40-year-old Reflections competition decided otherwise. They not only awarded Polly's work the top national honor for music composition but also featured it among winners in the five other categories in a ceremony at the annual National PTA Convention and Exhibition in June in San Jose, Calif.
Polly's work is to be displayed with the other Reflections winners at a U.S. Department of Education public exhibit in January and February. Each of the national winners was awarded $800, a certificate and medallion, and their schools' respective PTAs received a $200 award, according to the PTA Reflections website.
Polly said she is scheduled to perform her composition at the opening ceremony for the display Jan. 29.
In addition to piano, Polly plays clarinet and bass clarinet — the latter at school.
"I saw her talents as soon as she came to me as a sixth-grader," said Jeffry Brodie, band director at Burleigh Manor. "I didn't know she had the compositional skill that she had, but she certainly had a passion for what she did."
Students are encouraged to enter the Reflections competition early on in school, Polly said.
"Ever since first grade, they'd have people come and talk to us about it," she said. "It's such a huge deal."
It marked the third time Polly, of Ellicott City, had entered the competition. She said a drawing in third grade and a poem in fourth grade "went nowhere." Her two-minute piano composition is a culmination of hours spent learning and playing music since the first grade. "The Flow of Water" can be heard on the PTA Reflections website.
"I put in my thoughts from the trip that I had taken," Polly said, "and it kind of formed in a way that at the start it was supposed to be like flowing water down a hill, so I had a little pattern with just one hand, going down over a couple of notes. From there, it just got bigger and bigger."
Polly said, "I put whatever I could into this piece," adding that the effort led her to believe she had created something worthy of accolades.
"At the end, I looked at it and said, 'Wow, I did this,' " Polly said.
Still, she speaks with some surprise at having captured the first-place honor after finishing second in the county. So does her father.
"We thought there had been a mistake, because she was second at the county level, but the state placed her first, and she went from the state to the national," said Tom Moser, associate professor of English and director of undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.
"It took me quite a while to clue in to the fact that she actually won the national award at the national level."
Polly said she has entered a short story in the competition this year.
While she said she would likely not choose music as a career, "I definitely want to keep it up through my whole life. I want to be able to play for my children."
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