Nico Vilches, Composer


Nico Vilches in action.

Ian Valleau (he/him), Staff Writer

When high school senior Nico Vilches got a cryptic email from a professional director, he didn’t know how to react. The email said “Nico, I wanna have a chat with you about the future”. That director was Matthew Zrebski, part of the Teen West Project, which works with students to give them a voice in creating musicals. 

The email was offering Vilches the opportunity to write the music for the spring musical. A student has never had that opportunity here at Ida B. Wells High School, meaning Vilches is breaking ground. 

Last year Vilches wrote a short play that caught the eye of Zrebski, so Zrebski thought that Nico would be the best man for the job. While exciting at first, it soon set in that Vilches would be indulging on a year-long project of writing an entire score for a musical from scratch. “Once it was time for me to get working on my first song, it was really hard to start.” says Vilches.

Vilches just could not get off the ground, but motivation from co-writer Zrebski helped him out. “[Zrebski said:] Go, just go, and if I don’t like it, I don’t like it and we go in a different direction”. That’s what boosted Nico to get going on this project.

Writing a whole score for a musical is challenging for most of the 70 year old composers out there, but Nico is only 17 years old.

“There’s always worries when collaborating with students because student life is complex, sometimes for students there are more important things than writing a musical,” says Zrebski. Zrebski and Vilches constantly having conversations and meetings to make sure Vilches’ stress level isn’t too high.

Vilches is still grinding out the process though. It starts off with Zrebski writing a scene and Vilches uses his own imagination to find a sound that fits the musical. 

And Vilches does all this all with a different type of inspiration than most. “Inspiration is goofy” he says, “Inspiration comes to me from being excited”.

Everyone working on the musical is excited to have Vilches onboard. “We all know Nico is extraordinary,” says Zrebski. 

Jamie Miller, the drama teacher and the producer of the show, loves the fresh ideas that a student can bring to the table, and he also loves the great opportunity this brings for Vilches. But there are worries from Mr. Miller too, “When you’re working with someone who hasn’t had a ton of chances to demonstrate their craft, demonstrate their qualities, there’s always a little anxiety if they are going to be able to rise to the challenge. That’s true in sports too when they are turning into a rookie”.

But of course, Covid is putting question marks over if the musical will have to push back to next fall. If it’s going to happen in the spring then it needs to be done all the way, meaning no masks for performers. The producers want to put out the best show possible, and masks can limit that. “We want to definitely be able to honor the work with the very best production we can give it” says Miller.

With or without Covid, Vilches will keep paving the way as the first student to write the music for the school musical, and we wish him the best of luck.