All Join In: A HyperHistory of American Choral Music

All Join In: A HyperHistory of American Choral Music

Websites of choral organizations and guilds, or those with choral sub-sets, are often gold mines of information and resources for a composer. In addition to conference information, publications, and collegial contacts, most sites have lists conference workshops and concerts, recordings, repertoire lists, contacts, and possibly commission information.

AAM – Association of Anglican Musicians


The mission statement of AAM reads as follows: “Recognizing that the music of the church finds its primary expression within the framework of the liturgy, this Association takes as its purpose the elevation, stimulation, and support of music and the allied arts in all their aspects in the Anglican church, and especially in their relationship to liturgy.” With headquarters in Kentucky, AAM seeks to strengthen the musical life of Anglican [Episcopal] churches in the U.S. by a variety of endeavors. As with AGO below, AAM provides excellent resources both regarding the employment and compensation of musicians on staff and in terms of the clergy-musician relationship.

The Journal is the official publication of AAM.

Commissions/Competitions: AAM typically commissions works for their annual national conference. In past years, the Anglican Musicians Foundation has also sponsored several composing competitions. Contact the communications office at AAM for further information on both of these programs.

ACDA – American Choral Directors Association


With headquarters in Oklahoma City, OK, ACDA seeks “to promote excellence in choral music through performance, composition, publication, research, and teaching. In addition, ACDA strives through arts advocacy to elevate choral music’s position in American society.” With membership of approximately 18,000 choral directors, ACDA’s membership includes educational, academic, community and professional choirs under 13 different repertoire and standards (R&S) committees including boychoirs, children’s choirs, college/university choirs, community choirs, ethnic & multicultural choirs, jazz/show choirs, junior high and middle school choirs, male choirs, music & worship, senior high choirs, 2-yr. College choirs, women’s choirs and a youth & student activities committee. Each state has an ACDA board, with states grouped into 7 regional boards, over which is a national board structure. Conventions are held nationally in odd-numbered years and regionally in even-numbered years.

Commissions: ACDA’s Endowment Fund sponsors a commissioned work from a renowned choral composer at national conventions. Past commissions are:

1997 Gian Carlo Menotti, “Jacob’s Prayer” (mixed choir and orch.)

1999 Gwyneth Walker, “I Thank You God” (women’s choir)

2001 Eric Whitacre, “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine” (mixed)

2003 René Clausen, “Memorial” (mixed choir and orch.)

Many choirs who appear at national and regional conventions also commission and/or premiere works. While this information is not readily available in the convention books or on the guild website, a diligent composer can network with choral colleagues and build ongoing relationships with choirs and directors involved in ACDA events.

AGO – American Guild of Organists


The American Guild of Organists (AGO) is “the national professional association serving the organ and choral music fields. The Guild serves more than 20,000 members in more than 340 local chapters, via nine regions, throughout the United States and abroad. The Guild sets and maintains high musical standards and promotes the understanding and appreciation of all aspects of organ and choral music.” The National Headquarters of the AGO is in New York City.

Commission Competition: Through the work of the AGO New Music Committee, the AGO “has contributed more to the organ and choral repertory than any other organization in the twentieth century.” The choral competition is the AGO/ECS Publishing Award in Choral Composition. Held in alternate years, the competition seeks outstanding compositions for SATB chorus and organ in which the organ plays a distinctive and significant role. Other requirements vary. See the competition website. The second competition is the Holtcamp-AGO Award in Organ Composition. The $2,000 cash prize is provided by the Holtkamp Organ Company, the work is published by Hinshaw Music Inc., and a performance is given at the AGO National Convention. See the competition website for further information. Many of the local AGO chapters also support commissions at the local level.

ALCM – Association of Lutheran Church Musicians


“Strengthening the proclamation of the Gospel through music and the practice of worship among Lutherans in North America” is the mission statement of ALCM. National conferences are held in odd-numbered years, regional conferences in even years. ALCM is an active guild for those involved in music within Lutheran denominations. Many significant church music composers in the U.S. are affiliated with ALCM.

Commissions/Competitons: As with a number of other guilds, ALCM regional as well as national conventions often involve commissions or competitions. Contact the national headquarters for further information.

Associated Male Choruses of America


AMCA is dedicated to the “extension of male chorus singing, enjoyment, fellowship and service in North America.” With six regional districts, AMCA holds various performance activities and “Big Sings” at the regional level. Most of the choruses are located in the northern tier of the U.S. and in Canada.

Composition Competition: AMCA holds an annual Male Chorus Composition Contest and invites composers to submit original compositions for male chorus before the July 1 entry deadline. The goal of this competition is to encourage original songwriting for Male Chorus and to award outstanding efforts in this genre. There is a three-year theme cycle as follows: 2002 submissions must be “folk-style music”; 2003 “humor, cheer, well-being, entertaining”, and 2004 submissions must be “inspirational or religious but non denominational.”

Black Gospel Music


The BGM is less a guild than an online center for anything and everything connected to Black Gospel, from music to recordings and artists to books. Whether you are new to this genre or not, this is the place to come for information, updates, links, events, news, reviews, recording, management and the Gospel industry.

CASA – Contemporary A Cappella Society


Based in San Francisco, CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) is a non-profit organization formed in 1990 to foster and promote a cappella music. Genres of unaccompanied ensemble singing include pop-rock, doo-wop, barbershop, vocal jazz, world, classical vocal, Christmas, collegiate and high school ensembles.

CASA has extensive information and resources on a cappella arrangements from where to find scores to obtaining new arrangements. CASA also sponsors various awards, including “best song” or “best arrangement” in a given category. See the website above for further information.

Chorus America


Whereas a number of choral guilds support education/academic-based choirs or the choral works of a specific church denomination, Chorus America’s mission is “to strengthen choruses and increase appreciation of choral music so that more people are enriched by its beauty and power. Chorus America serves the spectrum of professional, volunteer, children/youth, and symphony/opera choruses. To accomplish its mission, Chorus America provides information, publications, conferences, consulting, training programs, surveys, networking, and awards to support choruses in North America.” More than 1,200 choruses, individuals, and businesses are members of Chorus America.

Annual conferences highlight various awards including the Alice Parker and the Chorus America/ASCAP award for adventurous programming. While these awards are not specific to a composer, they significantly impact the commissioning and performance of new choral music. The Parker award “will annually recognize a chorus for programming significant recently composed music that expands the mission of the chorus and challenges the chorus’s audience in a new way.” The ASCAP awards are given “based on the amount of programming of new music. These are awards for choruses that demonstrate adventurous programming through performances in the United States of choral music written in the last 25 years.”

Choristers Guild


Choristers Guild is an ecumenical organization of directors of children’s and youth choirs and publisher of music and related materials. The mission of CG includes assisting churches and schools in “understanding the importance of children’s and youth choirs and in defining goals and objectives for their particular choirs, enabling children’s and youth choirs to become effective vehicles in the nurture of spiritual growth, encouraging involvement in corporate worship by children’s and youth choirs through the music and leadership they provide, and to provide training opportunities and publication materials for leaders of choirs.”

CG does publish works for children’s voices and maintains an online website of composers published with CG.

FABM – Fellowship of American Baptist Musicians


FABM is a guild for those involved with music ministries in Baptist churches, “to enrich the spiritual life through music and worship by encouraging, stimulating and assisting our members toward a more effective use of music.” A major summer conference is held each year.

FUMA – Fellowship of United Methodists in Music & Worship Arts


The Fellowship Of United Methodists In Music and Worship Arts (FUMMWA) is a professional agency of the United Methodist Church that serves as a resourcing organization to those involved in worship ministries, including Pastors, Worship Leaders, Dancers, Musicians, Dramatists, Visual Artists, Christian Educators. It provides training on all aspects of worship at both regional and national levels. The Fellowship publishes Worship Arts six times a year which provides articles and resources on many worship related topics. 

GALA Choruses


GALA Choruses (the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses, Inc.) is “the world’s only association committed to serving the LGBT choral movement.” GALA lists 200+ member choruses and is “fosters the artistic and organizational development of member choruses through a wide variety of programs and services. We produce choral festivals, educational conferences and publications. We engage in advocacy; provide grants for the commissioning of new choral works; facilitate networking among our members; and serve as a resource center for choruses and individual members.”

GALA supports the composition of new works by both the Young Composer Competition as well as the Commission Matching Grants program. The first annul Young Composer Competition was created in conjunction with GALA Choruses Festvial 2000 as part of an organizational goal to provide opportunities for meaningful inclusion of young people in the gay and lesbian choral movement.

Although currently on hiatus, past results of the Commission Matching Grants Program can be accessed online. These 1-to-1 matching grants are awarded to choruses to promote the creation of new music that speaks to and enriches the culture of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community. For more information about these works, please contact GALA Choruses at or call (202) 467-5830.

GMWA – Gospel Music Workshop of America

Link: and

Founded in 1967 by the late Rev. James Cleveland, the Gospel Music Workshop of America is the largest artistic organization of its kind in the world with 75,000 members in more than 185 chapters in the United States, United Kingdom, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. Active membership includes professional and amateur gospel vocalists, instrumentalists, composers, arrangers, directors and producers.

Composers may apply to have their compositions presented at the New Music Seminar. Further information can be found at:

Hymn Society


The Hymn Society, based in Boston, is an international sacred music guild for “those who believe that congregational song is an integral component of worship, who believe that the writing and singing of new texts and tunes needs to be promoted, and who value learning about the origins of the words and music they sing.” Hymn Society publishes the quarterly journal The Hymn, and holds both workshops as well as annual conferences.

The Hymn Society sponsors searches for new hymns on subjects of current interest and need. Within the specific guidelines for each search, they welcome diverse styles of words and music. Hymn Society also sponsors the conference “Creating Congregational Song” was established in order to cultivate vital congregational singing, to encourage the writing and publishing of hymns and hymn tunes, to create an awareness of various traditions and styles in congregational song, and to express through congregational song the spirit and needs of contemporary life and thought. The Society’s website contains further information.

IFCM – International Federation of Choral Music


Based in Namur, Belgium The International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM) was founded in 1982 “for the purpose of facilitating communication and exchange between choral musicians throughout the world. Through its world and regional symposia, conducting master classes, World Youth Choir, Choral Music Database (Musica), ChoralNet website, World Choral Census, International Choral Bulletin, World Day of Choral Singing and many other projects, IFCM is fulfilling its purpose.” The most recent World Choral Symposium was held in August 2002 in Minneapolis; the next Symposium will be in Kyoto, Japan in 2005. Included in the 2002 Symposium was a major commissioning project between North American composers and presenting Symposium choirs.

MENC – The National Association for Music Education


With headquarters in Reston, VA, the National Association for Music Education (formerly the Music Educators National Conference / MENC) was established “to advance music education by encouraging the study and making of music by all. Founded in 1907 with 64 members, its current membership has grown to nearly 90,000 including active music teachers, university faculty and researchers, college students preparing to be teachers, high school honor society members and MusicFriends.”

MENC has enormous resources, from publications to the support of Music in Our Schools Month, from corporate partnerships to thousands of festival and honor ensembles. Most school-age honor choirs at local, state, regional and national levels are sponsored by MENC or MENC in partnership with another choral guild such as ACDA.

While not actively commissioning works for choir, the sponsored festival/honor choirs will often perform premieres or recently written works. Composers might also investigate some of MENC’s grants programs for support of innovative programs which integrate arts into the core curricula. See the MENC website for further information.

NAPM – National Association of Pastoral Musicians (Catholic)


The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) is a “membership organization primarily composed of musicians, musician-liturgists, clergy, and other leaders of prayer devoted to serving the life and mission of the Church through fostering the art of musical liturgy in Roman Catholic worshiping communities in the United States of America.” In additional to national conventions, NPM publishes The Liturgical Singer and Pastoral Musician Magazine and has online resources for cantors and organists.

PAM – Presbyterian Association of Musicians


The Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM) is a national organization of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for people who are involved in the areas of worship, music, and the arts. Choir directors, organists, Christian educators, clergy, and lay people will find PAM to be a valuable resource for creative worship planning. PAM is not just for Presbyterians. Other denominations find our resources, conferences, and publications helpful in their work for the church.

The mission statement of PAM reads as follows: “Worship is the human response to God’s grace and infinite love. It is central to the life of Christ’s church. Music is one of the integral elements of our worship. Acting on these convictions, the Presbyterian Association of Musicians energetically promotes and teaches the language of faith through worship so that all of God’s people, young and old, are vitally involved in singing, praying, proclaiming and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

From All Join In: A HyperHistory of American Choral Music
By Marian Dolan
© 2003 NewMusicBox

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.