CCHS Student Makes Finals in Overture Competition

Mar 1, 2018

A Carbondale High School student is showing off her talents at a competition in Champaign this weekend.

Twelve year-old Maya Benyas is one of five finalists in an overture competition for Champaign-Urbana's Symphony Orchestra. And she's by far the youngest - nearly 15 years younger than the next youngest finalist.

"I hear melodies in my head. I used to record them on my iPaid, but then I started writing them down on paper. I started to develop my music a little bit more, adding harmonies, deciding which instruments would play what."

Maya is no stranger to music - she's been playing piano for ten years, cello for five, and has performed with professional orchestras for several years now. Her father, Ed Benyas, is the Music Director of the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra and of the Southern Illinois Music Festival.

Like many her age, Maya took inspiration for this particular piece from her love of Harry Potter:

"I'm a huge fan of the Harry Potter books. I decided to write an orchestral suite based on the four houses from Harry Potter. I have one completed movement, it's the last movement, which is 'Slytherin,' based on the Slytherin House. It's represents the mood. It's in a minor key, sort of cunning, almost."

And while she hasn't actually heard an orchestra perform it, Maya uses a computer program to give her an idea of the sound.

The Overture Competition includes four other finalists - ranging in age from 27-32. They're all accomplished artists and composers as well, and many teach composition or performance at the college level. But Maya doesn't let the age difference bother her. She says she just likes to take the music she hears in her head and share it with others.

"I'm just really honored to be one of the five finalists in the competition, and I'm really excited to have my piece played by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra."

And she says she imagines there are other composers who've heard people talk about their young age, too.

"I'm pretty excited just to have my piece played. I kind of feel like Mozart, because he started composing at such a young age, too."

Maya takes inspiration from Mozart, and also Tchaikovsky. But she says she her sights set on even more when she grows up.

"In the future, as a career, I want to be a brain surgeon. But I definitely want to keep composing as a hobby."

She also looks up to composer John Williams - famous for his numerous movie scores.

"I've been looking into becoming a movie music composer. I think that would be really cool. I just hope that when I finish this suite and have all of the houses of Harry Potter, that it will be played."

Maya works hard - she skipped fourth and seventh grades already - but says music helps her stay grounded and lowers her stress.

"I really enjoy playing piano because I can just sit there and start playing. I can also compose music at the piano. Playing cello, you have more flexibility - you can play in an orchestra or chamber music. I've played several - many - concerts on cello."

Maya's hard work will take the stage this Friday and Saturday in Champaign-Urbana. She says she's excited, and hopes both the performers and the audience like her "Fantasy World Overture".

You can attend the Overture Competition New Music Reading Session Saturday, March 3 at 10am in Champaign.