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Community Rallies Around Opportunity for Young Composer
Jul 30, 2019

By the age of 15, Sophia Schwaner of Staunton had already written the script and composed 22 songs for her first complete musical production.  She had also participated in the Heifetz International Music Institute as a young violin student during two prior summers and played previously with the Waynesboro Symphony and in the pit orchestra for productions at ShenanArts and Oak Grove Theater.

Had financial resources permitted, Schwaner could also have accepted an offer to enroll in the prestigious University of North Carolina School of the Arts as a high school freshman.  Thanks to a comprehensive financial aid package, though, she is able to continue her high school education as a rising sophomore at Stuart Hall School, where she has been working closely with Jeremy West, Director of the School’s Theatre Emphasis Program and Chair of the Fine Arts department.

Upon learning that Schwaner had been accepted into the Boston Conservatory at Berklee High School Composition Intensive this summer, West helped her create a GoFundMe page to raise the $3,500 needed to take advantage of this potential life-changing opportunity.

Schwaner had raised $1,450 towards her goal when the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge learned of her situation.  They quickly tapped their new Scholarship to Change Lives to offer her a $1,000 scholarship if she could raise an additional $1,000.  Once she announced this scholarship on her GoFundMe page, the community rallied within a day’s time to help her meet her goal.  In all, 67 people offered their support.

During the two-week Composition Intensive, which wrapped up on July 19, Schwaner worked alongside other composers, broadening her understanding of the art of composition and what individual voices can bring to music.  “This life-changing opportunity will truly help me find my potential in my art form,” noted Schwaner.   “It will allow me to keep growing and pushing myself as an artist, while surrounded by an encouraging and supportive team of professionals in the field.”

Upon her return from Boston, yet another incredible opportunity awaited Schwaner.  She learned that the National Endowment for the Arts had selected her as one of only six finalists in the country for their Musical Theatre Songwriting Competition.

The NEA will now pair each finalist with a musical theater mentor and music director.  Schwaner will work virtually with her assigned coaching team to begin honing her song. That team will then travel to Staunton to meet with Schwaner for a three-day onsite workshop.

The Community Foundation’s Scholarship to Change Lives is a new fund created by one donor and now supported by others.  The Foundation uses this fund to respond to unique, non-traditional, and potentially life-changing educational opportunities for local residents of all ages.

The Foundation’s process of selecting individuals to receive this scholarship begins with a very simple online nomination from a community member, teacher, mentor, or colleague.  The nomination form can be accessed year-round at  The Foundation reviews each nomination carefully and invites select individuals to share additional details about their life-changing educational opportunity.

The Foundation welcomes contributions of any amount in order to grow its new Scholarship to Change Lives.  Contributions may be mailed to the Foundation at P.O. Box 815, Staunton, VA 24402, or offered online.

For more information concerning the National Endowment for the Arts Musical Theatre Songwriting Competition, including a text and video summary of the song submitted by Sophia Schwaner, please visit:



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