By Dan Forrest
The COVID pandemic has deeply affected composers of choral music. Our normal revenue streams have diminished or dried up, and the collaborative opportunities that normally provide encouragement, affirmation, and inspiration have been put on hold. Our national ACDA Composition Initiatives Committee met in mid-2020 to discuss ways to support choral composers through this time, and one of the initiatives that emerged from this meeting was the Genesis Prize: commissions for two composer-poet pairs to create new music that responds to times of crisis and suffering, and to fill some of the void left by the pause in our choral singing.
By the time the entry deadline arrived a couple months later, we were thrilled to have received 65 applications of astounding breadth and depth, along with many notes of gratitude from the choral community for our efforts to keep new music alive and visible. The judging was extremely difficult, and our judges eventually chose not only two winners, but also four ranked runners-up and seven other finalists. We then listed all of these names and proposed works in our press release and on the ACDA website to encourage choirs, conductors, and patrons to consider sponsoring them, thereby broadening the scope and impact of our mission.
To date, at least two of the runners-up and finalists have received funding for their projects, and we look forward to seeing many more of the finalists and runners-up receive funding so their pieces can come to life. The full list of composers, poets, and proposed works is posted at https://acda.org/about-us/awards-competitions/acda-genesis-prize/; if you would be interested in sponsoring or co-sponsoring one of these works, please contact the composers at the links provided there.
Meanwhile, the two winning composers and lyricists have completed their proposed works. Carlos Cordero and Julie Flanders collaborated to create Holding Our Breath, a vivid and dramatic response to the threats posed to our breath, our music, and our lives, both by the COVID pandemic as well as racial injustice. Kyle Pederson and Brian Newhouse collaborated to create Call Across, for SATB choir with piano, djembe, and optional handpan, presenting three voices from around the world, each seeking to break out of isolation by calling out, “what beauty might we make if our voices join?”
These works were completed in mid-January, which left us wrestling with how we might premiere these pieces to the choral community for our national conference. We wanted to share premiere performances, not just scores, but participating choirs already had settled their programming, and delaying premieres until regional conferences in 2022 would lose urgency and impact. However, in a testament to the relationships that sustain and inspire our choral community, poet Julie Flanders reached out to Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare with October Project producer Marina Belica. The conversation soon blossomed into a collaboration among ACDA, Conspirare, and the October Project to bring these works to life as virtual choir videos in conjunction with our ACDA national conference. Needless to say, the Genesis Prize-winning composers and poets (as well as our entire committee and ACDA leadership) are thrilled and deeply grateful for this gesture, and we look forward to sharing their performances of their new music in mid-March! Look for more press from ACDA and from Conspirare in the weeks to come, and look for the two performance videos, which will be posted at the top of the Composers Virtual Exhibition Hall throughout the entire national conference.
Our entire committee, including Susan LaBarr, Nancy Menk, Brandon Boyd, Andrew Crane, and Dominick DiOrio (past chair) hopes that this prize, and the wonderful music-making resulting from it, will shine as an example and a light of hope – that new music is alive and well, and that the choral community supports the choral composers and poets who continue to create it!
Dr. Dan Forrest serves as chair of the ACDA Composition Initiatives Committee. A composer, collaborative pianist, and educator, he publishes his concert music with The Music of Dan Forrest, and his church anthems with Beckenhorst Press (where he also serves as co-editor). Contact Dan at or www.danforrest.com.