Many Voices: American Choral Art and the 21st Century Composer

Many Voices: American Choral Art and the 21st Century Composer

This month, NewMusicBox celebrates four years on the Web, which is as long as a Presidential term of office! As the mouthpiece for the American new music community, I can think of no better way to celebrate our “re-election” than with an issue devoted to choral music in America. Thanks to Kathy Saltzman Romey, our Guest Editor this month, we’re featuring the most extensive In The First Person ever, a 20-part conversation featuring composers commissioned by the Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music, held in Minneapolis last August, as well as a wide range of other features on the state of choral music in America. The range of voices, pun intended, is truly inspirational.


Kathy Saltzman Romey
Kathy Saltzman Romey
Photo by Ann Marsden

This month’s NewMusicBox focuses on the American choral art—what it is and how it may evolve. In February 2003, Chorus America released a new publication entitled America’s Performing Art: A Study of Choruses, Choral Singers, and their Impact. The research indicated “choral singing is the top choice for participation in the performing arts by adults and children, with an estimated 28.5 million regularly performing in a chorus.” The study focused on public attitude, participation, motivations, and behaviors of people involved in choral organizations nationwide. Of some 250,000 American choruses, approximately 12,000 are professional or volunteer community groups, over 38,000 are school ensembles, and 200,000 are church choirs.

Choral singing, however, is not just an American phenomenon but also an activity that involves amateur and professional enthusiasts from all over the globe. In August 2002, the Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music was presented for the first time in the United States, in conjunction with the Minnesota Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) and the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM). The city of Minneapolis hosted over 2000 global delegates in eight days of concerts presented by more than thirty international choirs, ten United States choruses, and the World Youth Choir. In addition, over thirty scholars shared their research in lectures, seminars, and repertoire reading sessions.

What implications does this have for American composers? More and more, choruses are assessing and redefining themselves to address the needs of their constantly changing communities. As society processes the complexity of life through art, it is increasingly important that partnerships are cultivated between living composers and choral organizations, which integrates the artistic voice of the 21st century at every level.

For the first time in the history of the symposium, ten internationally renowned composers, representing the sounds of the Americas, were commissioned to write new works as part of the Sixth World Symposium offerings. Chosen for their unique styles, the featured composers came from Latin America, Canada, and the U.S.A. and were in residence for the premiere performances. The combination of these commissioned works and composer residencies was unprecedented. The event offered performers and delegates an almost unheard of opportunity to experience the creative process in the presentation of ten new cutting edge compositions presented by some of the world’s finest international choirs. This month in NewMusicBox, we present a complete transcript of three dialogue sessions focusing on the creative process held with the World Symposium commissioned composers.

Additionally, Dr. Marian Dolan offers perspectives on sacred and secular texts, national and global repertoire, and a representative overview of the many types of choral organizations active in the United States. We have also asked a group of composers, who have created very little vocal music, what would inspire them to write more for the choral medium.

The late Robert Shaw stated “In these times of political, economic, and personal disintegration, music is not a luxury, it is a necessity: not simply because it is therapeutic, nor because it is the universal language, but because it is the persistent focus of our intelligence, aspiration, and good will.” As creators of music in this country, we ask you to ponder the future of choral music in the United States and throughout the world.

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.