Rustin High School Senior Shines at Young Composers Workshop

Rustin High School Senior Shines at Young Composers Workshop

Christopher Palmer

Christopher Palmer


Life for Rustin High School senior, Christopher Palmer is pretty typical for someone his age. He goes to school, spends time with friends, and dreams of his future, but he possesses a talent that is atypical for the average teenager. Palmer spends a great deal of his time analyzing the works of the great composers and writing his own musical masterpieces.


The 17-year-old recently participated in the Young Composers Workshop at the Brandywine River Museum of Art. 


Palmer was accepted into the workshop last spring along with three other aspiring composers ranging in age from 13 to 17. The workshop is the creation of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania native and award-winning pianist and composer, Jennifer Nicole Campbell.


"I loved going to museums as a kid and always loved the connection between art and music," says Campbell. "I really wanted to help out young composers, because they don't have many opportunities to have their works performed. And, I thought to do it at the Brandywine River Museum of Art would be great."


Campbell challenged the young composers to write an original piece of music based on artwork at the museum. 


"At the start of the workshop, I did a tour with all of them," says Campbell. "As we were going through the museum, it was interesting to see how quickly some of them were able to figure out which painting they wanted to choose and how they were able to talk about the form of their piece very quickly. It's amazing." 


For Palmer, the process took a little longer. He didn't find inspiration until he visited the museum a second time and saw a book featuring the artwork of N.C. Wyeth in the gift shop. In particular, a series of paintings depicting the life and death of King Arthur caught his attention. He had found his muse.


Palmer describes the composing process as "a series of sporadic work, leisurely work, and no work at all." He wrote the first movement, based on the overture to George Frideric Handel's Messiah, in a matter of hours. The third movement was completed on the same day.


The second movement took several days to finish. Palmer drew inspiration yet again from Handel, specifically Suite no. 2 from Water Music.


The fourth movement, a double fugue inspired by the Kyrie movement from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem, proved to be the biggest challenge.


"That one was hard. I'd write, erase, cry. Write, erase, cry. Eventually, I got it to the point that I liked it. That one took at least three days."


Once he finished the fourth movement, the fifth, which drew influence from the Lacrimosa movement from Mozart’s Requiem, was completed in a matter of hours. 


Palmer says that as a composer, you progress as you work and that it is a "gradual learning process." He receives a lot of feedback from his parents.


"I think both of their opinions are the most valuable that I can get because they are the audience. They are biased, obviously, but I like to think they listen to it honestly and try to decide if they really like it or not."


The workshop culminated in August with a performance of all the works by the young composers. Christopher Palmer & Jennifer Nicole Campbell


"Christopher's piece came across very well," says Campbell. "The people that performed in the quartet loved it. It was thoughtfully written, considering I don't think he had written for a string quartet before and he wasn't familiar with how to write string parts. The balance between all the instruments was super. You could envision the whole story. He really brought the story to life through music." 


"He really understands musical form. He's far ahead in his ability to analyze music and create something unique using old, traditional structures in a sense," added Campbell.


Palmer's love of music developed at an early age. He credits music teacher, Mr. Jim Morrison from Starkweather Elementary School, with sparking his interest.


"I started composing music in fourth-grade when Mr. Morrison introduced us to Noteflight, an online music notation program," says Palmer.


"I wasn't a good enough musician back then to write with pen and paper. With Noteflight, I could playback and hear what I was writing. Mr. Morrison's class really encouraged composition, among other things. It was just one unit, but it was a unit that stuck with me."


Palmer says he didn't start seriously composing music until he was in seventh-grade at Stetson Middle School.


"It was then I considered it a discipline of mine."  


The young musician and composer says all of the music teachers in the West Chester Area School District have been wonderful.


"Mr. Kelley named me 'Outstanding Musician of the Year' when I was at Stetson."                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Palmer also plays the piano, sings baritone in the choir, and plays the French horn in the wind ensemble, and mellophone in the marching band at Rustin High School. He has taken Music Theory I and II at Rustin and is enrolled this year in AP Music Theory. He also studies composition and piano at the Bryn Mawr Conservatory of Music under Mr. Andrew Desiderio and Mr. Marcantonio Barone, respectively. In addition, he studies vocal performance at the Kim Russell Voice Studio in West Chester.


Palmer hopes to major in music composition in college. 


"I wouldn't last as a performance major," he jokes. "I'm too lazy!"


Palmer is applying to Penn State University, West Chester University, and Westminster Choir College. He is also considering applying to The Julliard School and The Curtis Institute of Music.


If music doesn't pan out, Palmer has a back-up plan - computer science. He is passionate about blockchain technology, the record-keeping technology behind bitcoin. He actively writes blog posts on Steemit, a social media platform that rewards users with cryptocurrency for their content.


See a video of the world premiere of "King Arthur" string quarter by Christopher Palmer -


Visit Christopher Palmer's blog -