Announcing the 2023 Express the Music Contest Winners

June 29, 2023
Responding to Jess Gillam and tenThing Brass Ensemble

In October 2022, saxophonist Jess Gillam participated in a mini-residency with the Neighborhood Music Project, a collaboration between Princeton University Concerts (PUC) and TAP. On October 25, she rehearsed and engaged with the Trenton Central High School (TCHS) Orchestra. The next day, the TCHS Orchestra attended her PUC debut in Richardson Auditorium. In December 2022, the TCHS Orchestra also attended tenThing Brass Ensemble’s PUC debut. TCHS students who attended either performance were invited to reflect on the experience in the Neighborhood Music Project’s fourth annual Express the Music Contest, open this year to creative writing and drawing entries. 

The entries were judged by the following members of the PUC team: Marna Seltzer, Director; Dasha Koltunyuk, Marketing & Outreach Manager; and Tom Uhlein, Graphic Designer. 

Learn more about the winners below and read their winning entries online.

First Place: Sorange Rutabairo, 12th Grade
Sorange Rutabairo

Sorange Rutabairo

Sorange Rutabairo is a senior in the Health Professions small learning community at Trenton Central High School. “Music will always be a lifeline for me,” she says. “I use it as an escape and a sanctuary.” She also enjoys reading and listening to poetry, so writing came to her as the obvious next step. As an alto sax player herself, Sorange had already been a fan of Gillam when she entered this contest, so she took this opportunity to express her appreciation for Gillam's work. “While writing, it was like I was being brought back to that space listening to her music, and it was almost just as entrancing,” she says. Sorange also enjoys photography and crosswords.

First Place: Evita Vasquez Reyes, 12th Grade
Evita Vasquez Reyes

Evita Vasquez Reyes

Evita Vasquez Reyes is a senior in the STEM small learning community at Trenton Central High School. She frequently dabbles in multiple art forms for self-expression: “Drawing, writing, reading, playing instruments, and poetry have all been things that at some point allowed my monotonous life to feel ‘alive’ and like I wasn’t simply just surviving but I was living!”

Evita used to be afraid of writing in English. Since Spanish was her primary language most of her life, writing in English felt foreign and forced. However, she faced her fear during the pandemic through journaling and discovered a new passion. When she learned about the contest, she knew she had to enter. “Jess Gillam’s entire performance was like watching a set of short films,” she says. “They each had a story and a ‘painting’ that they delivered in their own special way.” Evita is driven by a desire to make a positive impact in her community and to bring joy and compassion to those around her. In her free time, she enjoys baking and trying new recipes with her friends and family.

Second Place: Marie Jules, 10th Grade
Marie Jules

Marie Jules

Marie Jules is a sophomore in the Visual and Performing Arts small learning community at Trenton Central High School. Immersed in different art forms, she listens to music and draws daily. She also dances and enjoys playing the flute. She wasn’t originally planning to enter the contest, but after attending Gillam’s Princeton University Concerts performance, she was inspired to write.

“While writing, I was listening to a playlist curated by Ms. Gillam,” she says. “That whole collection of music was a vibe and made me check out other genres of music I previously didn’t listen to.” Marie is passionate about storytelling and the potential to be very emotive through the arts: “I have many stories and ideas I want to make real, so I always strive to better my craft so I can achieve that goal.”

Honorable Mention: Guadalupe Bueno, 12th Grade
Guadalupe Bueno

Guadalupe Bueno

Guadalupe Bueno is a senior in the STEM small learning community at Trenton Central High School. They have been playing percussion since fourth grade and glockenspiel and marimba since sixth grade. They have also been drawing and singing since they were little. Their art piece was inspired by tenThing Brass Ensemble: “I was really moved by the tenThing performance, so much so that I was seeing the place in my drawing as they were playing.” Guadalupe wanted to push themself outside of their comfort zone by experimenting with landscapes. “I’m not used to backgrounds, so trying to have the composition look mystical instead of messy took a lot of time and micro-adjusting,” they say. Guadalupe has dreams of one day becoming a professional illustrator and animator.

Honorable Mention: Olivia Keith-Henry, 12th Grade
Olivia Keith-Henry

Olivia Keith-Henry is a senior in the Visual and Performing Arts small learning community at Trenton Central High School. She plays both violin and piano. “I love the sounds of music in all ways: dancing, singing, and performing,” she says. She enjoys writing stories and drawing images that match music, as a way to process and connect with what she’s listening to in a more personal manner. Her entry was inspired by Gillam’s rendition of Kurt Weill’s “Je ne t’aime pas.” She created original lyrics for the song and painted a scene to go along with the story she was trying to convey. “It was one of my first times painting. I usually draw, so it was nice to change my style once in a while," she says. In her free time, Olivia is often found listening to her favorite bands or looking for her next favorite song.