Keeper of the Plans

Young Wichita native’s music named best in the world at international festival

Logan Nelson, a 2015 Wichita East High School graduate, won the award for Best Young International Composer at the 2018 World Soundtrack Awards in Belgium.
Logan Nelson, a 2015 Wichita East High School graduate, won the award for Best Young International Composer at the 2018 World Soundtrack Awards in Belgium.

A Wichita-raised musician is getting international recognition after winning a major award last month.

Logan Nelson, a 2015 Wichita East High School grad and current senior at the University of Southern California, won the SABAM Award for Most Original Composition by a Young International Composer at the 2018 World Soundtrack Awards last month.

The award recognizes the best film soundtrack, written for a full orchestra, by a composer under the age of 36.

The award ceremony was held in conjunction with the Film Fest Gent, in Belgium.

Nelson was the lone American in the running for the award — of the two other finalists, one was Irish and one was Portuguese.

To enter the contest, Nelson had to write an original music composition to accompany a 3-minute clip from Hayao Miyazaki’s film, “Grave of the Fireflies.”

Judges deemed him one of three finalists, which gave him the opportunity to fly to Belgium and rehearse with the Brussels Philharmonic, which played his work at the festival.

Nelson won a cash prize equivalent to about $2,800 — as well as the opportunity to network with major executives in the film-scoring industry.

For Nelson, who now lives in Los Angeles, winning the award was “super-exciting,” especially as he aims to have a career in film scoring after his graduation in May.

“It was pretty amazing just to have my work performed by a major orchestra,” he said.

Wichita roots

Nelson started playing piano when he was 5 years old.

In fifth grade, he took up the viola — an instrument he eventually “fell in love with.”

Over the years, he played with the Wichita Youth Symphony Orchestra, directed by Mark Laycock, working his way up to principal viola player by his senior year at East.

At East High, he played in orchestras directed by Eric Crawford, whom Nelson described as “a mentor not just for orchestral music, but music in general.”

While Nelson was in high school, he said he developed an interest in writing his own orchestral music.

Crawford referred him to Dan Racer, a composition instructor at Friends University, from whom Nelson took lessons.

In the summers, Nelson also played with the WSU Summer Symphony Orchestra, a program offered to experienced musicians — instructors, seasoned amateurs, collegiate and advanced high-school players.

Most of Nelson’s friends at East were also musicians, he said, so on weekends he would occasionally gather them together to play and experiment with new music.

Writing for film

It wasn’t until he went to USC that he developed an interest in film, Nelson said.

Because of the LA university’s “amazing film school,” he quickly found opportunities to write music for student filmmakers, he said.

The university is well-regarded for both its music and film schools.

“It’s such a collaborative art — doing film scoring and working with directors and producers,” he said. “The film-scoring community out here has been really great. I’ve been able to have some good jobs working for other composers while I’m out here, which is something that only would have been possible in an area densely populated with a film community.”

In his three years in California, he’s worked alongside legendary film composer Hans Zimmer, and assisted Emmy Award-winning composer Kris Bowers in creating music for Netflix’s “Dear White People,” ABC’s “For the People,” and other productions. He’s also crafted music for video games, independent films and modern dance compositions.

When he’s not writing music for orchestra, he has a side project performing with his synth-pop duo, LightHouse. Both he and bandmate Katya Richardson are classically trained composers creating electronic music.

Nelson is scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in music composition and a minor in film.

After graduation, he said he wants to carve out a name for himself, “working on independent films that are doing festival runs, trying to attach myself with the next big project.”

Of course, being named the best young composer in the world might help his prospects.

To listen to some of his work, visit

In Wichita, you’ll be able to hear one of his compositions live this spring, as the Wichita Youth Symphony Orchestra will play a Nelson piece in its spring show at 7:30 p.m. March 2 at Century II. It will also bring the piece on tour in a joint concert with the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony on March 10.

The 7-minute piece is called “Granite Ocean.”

“It’s exciting to play a piece by a living composer, and even better that it’s by someone from Wichita — and someone who’s an alum of our youth orchestra,” said Tiffany Bell, education and community engagement manager for the WSO.