Four emerging women composers named winners of Her Voice competition - Chicago a cappella

CHICAGO — Chicago a cappella is pleased to announce the winners of the ensemble’s new “HerVoice” competition for emerging women composers. A partnership with the Kansas City Chorale, the competition resulted in 82 submitted works from 69 composers representing 13 countries and 22 U.S. states.

The four winners will each receive personal mentoring from one of the program’s acclaimed composer panelists: Stacy Garrop, Zanaida Robles, and Chen Yi. Each piece will be workshopped and performed by either Chicago a cappella under the direction of artistic director John William Trotter, or the Kansas City Chorale under the direction of artistic director Charles Bruffy. Winners also receive a $500 cash award.

The winners are:

Sarai Hillman, Riverdale, GA

Hillman’s work Psalm 59:16 C. Safety & Refuge will be workshopped and performed by Chicago a cappella, and she will work with mentor composer Zanaida Robles. A 2021 graduate of Georgia State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Music degree, Hillman began her early musical journey singing gospel music in the Baptist church. Losing both of her parents in her immediate life before her senior year of high school created the need for an expressive outlet, which led her to the world of music composition. While at Georgia State she studied composition with Brent Milam. She currently acts as praise and worship leader at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church.

Jessica Rudman, Simsbury, CT

Rudman’s piece Credo, based on a poem by Alfred Kreymborg, will be workshopped and performed by the Kansas City Chorale, and she will work with mentor composer Stacy Garrop. Rudman’s previous works have been presented across the U.S., Europe, and South America by ensembles including the Arditti Quartet, International Contemporary Ensemble, the Riot Ensemble, the Omaha Symphony’s Chamber Orchestra, and others. In 2018, her chamber opera Marie Curie Learns to Swim was premiered by Hartford Opera Theater. Currently the chair of the Composition and Academic Studies Department at the Hartt Community Division, Rudman received degrees from the University of Virginia and The Hartt School, and she earned her Ph.D. at the City University of New York.

Leah Tracy, Mt. Blanchard, OH

Tracy’s composition sing to us, cedars, with text by Emily Pauline Johnson, will be workshopped and performed by the Kansas City Chorale, and she will work with mentor composer Chen Yi. Leah is a 2021 graduate of Bowling Green State University, where she earned her Bachelor of Music in composition. She has studied composition with Drs. Elainie Lillios, Christopher Dietz, Mikel Kuehn and Marilyn Shrude. She has written art songs, works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and choir. BGSU Women’s Chorus commissioned and premiered her setting of Reese Leyva’s poem Remember, Woman, which has since been adopted as the ensemble’s anthem. Her piece fo[rest]land for double bass was included on a recent recording by bassist Christopher Jeffer.

Edna Yeh, Oakland, CA

Yeh’s piece I wandered lonely as a cloud, set to poetry of William Wordsworth, will be workshopped and performed by Chicago a cappella, and she will work with mentor composer Stacy Garrop. Yeh is the founder and artistic director of Vox Alta, a new ensemble that will launch in fall 2021. She also serves as assistant conductor of Sacred & Profane: A Chamber Chorus, and assistant conductor of Voci Women’s Vocal Ensemble, both of which recently commissioned new works from Yeh which will receive pandemic-delayed premieres during the 2021–22 season. Originally from Ellensburg, WA, Yeh received early musical training in piano and violin. At Harvard University, she joined a women’s chorus for the first time and hasn’t stopped singing since. She earned her Master of Music from the University of Texas at Austin.

Two additional entrants were named as honorable mentions:

Morgan Kelly Moss of Fogelsville, PA

For her piece Aperi Ianuam

Zuzanna Koziej of Toruń, Poland

For her piece Wianku wianeczku

HerVoice was conceived by Chicago a cappella artistic director John William Trotter to promote the work of promising women composers and provide hands-on mentoring to further their skills in choral composition. In addition to the mentoring, workshop, and performance opportunities for the four winners, all composers who submitted works will be able to participate in virtual gatherings with the composer mentor panel to learn about the business side of composing and to discuss issues pertaining to navigating a career as a female composer.

Performing with an ensemble of 10 singers and no conductor, Chicago a cappella has been hailed as “the area’s best unaccompanied group” (Chicago Magazine) and “the city’s liveliest, most versatile vocal ensemble” (Chicago Tribune). Founded in 1993, the group spans a repertoire from Gregorian chant to the Beatles and beyond. With more than 500 performances to its credit, Chicago a cappella produces an annual concert series in the Chicago area, and it has appeared in 13 American states and in Mexico. The ensemble is heard frequently on radio nationally and has a catalog of nine CD recordings on the Cedille, Centaur, and Gothic labels.

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