MU graduate student wins composition prize

Friday, November 20, 2009 | 1:56 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — When Mike Strausbaugh gets in his car, he turns on Swedish death metal. Although the MU graduate student is studying classical guitar and music composition, he doesn’t always draw inspiration from classical music. 

He doesn’t go by Michael or Mr. Strausbaugh, either.

“Mr. Strausbaugh is my dad,” he said.

Strausbaugh, 38,  is the latest winner of the Sinquefield Composition Prize. The Sinquefield competition is part of the Mizzou New Music Initiative, which is supported by Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield.

The competition requires a participating undergraduate or graduate student to submit an original composition in early October to be judged by non-MU professors.

When Strausbaugh heard he won, he called his mom while walking across campus.

“It was between classes, so I couldn’t really do anything," he said. "I went to one class, found out, then went to the next class.”

Strausbaugh crafted "Thermopylae," a five-minute duet for guitar and cello, for a previous composition course at MU. He wrote it in a week and revised it later with his composition professor, Stefan Freund, who is a cellist.

Perhaps the biggest perk of winning the competition is the opportunity to write a separate work for one of MU’s musical ensembles. Strausbaugh is working on a one-movement guitar concerto for the University Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece, currently untitled, will debut at the annual Chancellor’s Concert on March 15, 2010. The piece he used to win the competition will not be performed.

Out of the compositions that have won the Sinquefield Prize in the five years of its existence, Strausbaugh’s piece is the only one to feature a classical guitar, and Strausbaugh will be the featured soloist at the March performance.

“As a guitar player, we don’t get much of a chance very often to play with an orchestra,” he said.

Strausbaugh graduated in 1996 from the University of Southern Colorado, where he studied classical guitar. He has been playing guitar since July 1988, when he received his first one.

Now, he said, he owns at least eight electric guitars and two classical guitars. Most of the time, he plays a hand-made Carrington guitar.

Other finalists for the composition prize were Andy Bowman, David Witter and Tony Hernandez.


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