Thursday, March 25, 2010

Aspiring choral composers- do NOT miss this!

I see that Steven Sametz and his school Lehigh University, in a beautiful part of Pennsylvania, have hooked up with ACDA to present a choral composers workshop this summer. Bravo to all involved and for those of you who don't know the history behind this, I will try to fill you in (though I am not privy to the details of the new developments with ACDA- perhaps someone there can fill in the recent blanks).

Steven started this great idea about 9-10 year ago-- a week long bootcamp for aspiring choral composers/arrangers to start a new piece or two from scratch, hit the ground running, write like maniacs every day AND hear their sketches sung every day by Steven's fine professional group, the Princeton Singers. This was Steven Sametz' and Lehigh's invention, and it went really well the first year, from what I heard.

The next year, 2002, Steven got Oxford University Press (USA), at that point run very ably by Chris Johnson, to collaborate. Oxford (with some of the decisions being made by the UK management) decided to expand the event by adding in a "festival" adult choir to the composer element in hopes of drawing more people and more income to the event. For a few years this was the format, but the festival choir element never really took hold, as many quality amateur singers in the area (and there are a lot, this is Bethlehem Bach Choir country) already had pretty strong allegiances to singing at the Berkshire Festival off and on.

But in the meantime Steven had great guest composer mentors such as Libby Larsen, Bob Chilcott, and so on working with the aspiring composers and things really took off. Oxford was able to discover some, at that point, totally unknown composers such as yours truly (I attended 2002 and 2003 to compose, and 2004 to work on my conducting with Nicholas Cleobury), Reg Unterseher, Jon Rommereim, Ellen Voth, Valerie Crescenz, Jonathan David, and a whole bunch of other very talented folks. Oxford was able to, in short time, add about 40 quality pieces into their catalog from the composers at the event, no small accomplishment by the composers or by OUP.

However, things kind of unraveled. As I said, the festival choir element never really gelled, although people like Nick Cleobury and Tom Hall gave it their all (hey, I just rhymed) and Oxford UK seemed to grow weary of the event and/or lack of income. They finally pulled the plug on their support which to me totally sucked (yeah, I can say that, it's my blog). To me, this was OUP UK not respecting (or jealous of?) OUP USA as run by Chris Johnson-- a real shame that they decided to not respect Chris' vision for what OUP USA Music Department could achieve.

I believe Steven Sametz did the event at least once or twice since then with its original intent, as a composer/professional choir workshop for new choral compositions. I'm thrilled that Steven and Lehigh went back to their original idea and did that.

I am also thrilled to see that Steven, Lehigh and now ACDA are collaborating on this event this summer. I wish them all the success in the world and for any of you aspiring choral composers/arrangers of any age- PLEASE sign up and attend. I guarantee you that it will be worth it- the chance to work with Steven, Chen Yi, the Princeton Singers, and the collegial atmosphere you will find there will be life-changing for you.

And finally, I will never forget the amazing sessions we had with Bob Chilcott one summer- Bob's tiny handwritten immaculate notes he prepared for seminars, his supportiveness, his earnest and intense beliefs about the intent of musical composition, and for sure his ability to blow off some steam and amuse all of us with insanely funny King's Singers stories- what a blast.

So... here is the link to ACDA's page about this event. Go, sign up already!


  1. Thank you, this is extremely useful, both for the historical background and because ACDA's own info about it is weirdly thin.

    In the PDFs they have available on their site, there's no hint that you compose the piece to be performed *during* the seminar week. How does that work with many composers and limited rehearsal time? I see enrollment is basically wide open (non-competitive) and I wonder how much rehearsal time each person can get if there are many people.

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    Hey thanks for all the great music you have written over the centuries!

    My intention in writing about this was to let aspiring composers know how great it was and some of the great ideas Steven Sametz incorporated. However, I do not know for a fact that Steven is doing it the very same way this summer. I would advise shooting him an e-mail about it and ask your questions of him directly. All in all though, I would expect that you will truly enjoy the experience if you go.

    They were able to get composers enough time with the choir- it wasn't easy to get that schedule to work just right, but they did!The Princeton Singers are killer musicians and sight-readers, and very friendly, btw.


  3. You're very welcome. It was actually more difficult to design and implement the time machine than to compose the music, but what can I say... I'm a Renaissance Woman.

    I asked ACDA yesterday and they responded that on the "Schedule" PDF they've made available for this program on their site, there's a phone number for Doug MacNeil, who can answer all questions (I won't share it here -- to protect his privacy and in case it changes -- but that's the place to find it, for anyone who's curious).

    Thanks again!