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Chicago a cappella expands its new women composers competition

“HerVoice” program now includes partnership with Kansas City Chorale and three acclaimed composers.

CHICAGO — Chicago a cappella has expanded its recently announced competition and mentorship program for women composers, “HerVoice.” The acclaimed vocal ensemble is now collaborating on the project with the Grammy winning Kansas City Chorale, and composer Stacy Garrop will now be joined by Zanaida Robles and Chen Yi on the composer selection/mentor panel. The program aims to promote the work of promising women composers and provide hands-on mentoring to further their skills in choral composition.

The winner will receive personal mentorship and advice from acclaimed composers and artistic directors from the selection committee. Composer Stacy Garrop will chair the selection committee, which will also include composers Chen Yi and Zanaida Robles, Chicago a cappella Artistic Director John William Trotter, and Kansas City Chorale Artistic Director Charles Bruffy. The winning piece will be performed by Chicago a cappella during the 2021-22 season.

In addition, all composers who submit will be invited to participate in virtual gatherings with Stacy Garrop regarding the business side of composing and issues pertaining to navigating a career as a female composer. 

“We may not be able to give live performances right now, but we can, and we will, further the art of ensemble singing,” says Artistic Director John William Trotter. “It’s an opportunity to identify and help hone the choral writing skills of talented women who might not otherwise have the chance to work with a professional vocal ensemble.  And the opportunity to work one-on-one with composers of the caliber of Stacy Garrop, Chen Yi, and Zanaida Robles is priceless.”

“I’m thrilled to be able to partner with Chicago a cappella on this project,” says Garrop, who is chairing the composer selection/mentor panel.  “It’s so important to nurture the careers of women composers of all ages, and the art of writing choral music is something that sometimes gets less attention than it should, especially because it’s the music that is most widely performed, from community, school, and church choirs to professional groups, symphonic choirs, and oratorio societies.”

Submissions are being accepted now through April 1, 2021, with a decision announcement scheduled for May 1. The opportunity is open to women composers from anywhere in the world who are eager to improve their skill at choral composition. Composers whose career is in its early stages and women composers of color are particularly encouraged to apply.  Complete details about submission requirements are available at


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 has been heard frequently on radio nationally and has a catalog of nine CD recordings on the Cedille, Centaur, and Gothic labels. They have been acclaimed for their “clarity, well-balanced tone, and deep emotional involvement” (Washington Post) and “breathtaking ensemble and control” (American Organist).  Dr. John William Trotter became Chicago a cappella's second Artistic Director in 2020, having previously served as the ensemble’s Principal Music Director and Guest Music Director starting in 2014. He was Associate Conductor for the Vancouver Chamber Choir and has conducted more than a dozen professional choirs and orchestras on three continents. During the 2019-20 season, Trotter served as a Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge (UK).

Since the debut performance in 1982, the Kansas City Chorale has provided audiences with a high caliber of choral artistry, performing a diverse repertoire of new and traditional music. Under Charles Bruffy’s leadership the choir has garnered international recognition for artistic merit, having been praised for its refined sound, phrasing and flawless intonation. As a cornerstone of the Kansas City performing arts community, the Chorale creates concert programs and recordings that educate, engage, provoke, and inspire listeners. The Chorale’s ongoing outreach efforts facilitate the development of local talent, while providing students and their instructors with the opportunity to learn from world-class vocalists.  The Kansas City Chorale has an award-winning collection of albums with Chandos Records, Naxos Records, Nimbus Records, and 2Foals Records.  The Chorale's album Life and Breath: Choral Works of René Clausen won the Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance and Best Engineered Album, Classical.  Together with the Phoenix Chorale, the ensemble recorded Rachmaninoff: All Night Vigil, which won the Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance.

Stacy Garrop is an award-winning composer with over five dozen choral works to her credit.  Her catalog also includes numerous works for orchestra, opera, oratorio, wind ensemble, art song, chamber ensembles, and solo instruments. She served as the first Emerging Opera Composer of Chicago Opera Theater’s Vanguard Program (2018-2020) and held a 3-year composer-in-residence position with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra. Garrop is a Cedille Records artist with pieces currently on ten CDs; her works are also commercially available on ten additional labels. She has received an Arts and Letters Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Barlow Prize, and prizes from competitions sponsored by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Omaha Symphony, Boston Choral Ensemble, and Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. Recent commissions include works for Grant Park Music Festival Orchestra, Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Other notable commissions include works for the Kronos Quartet, Chanticleer, and the San Francisco Choral Society. She has upcoming commissions with The Crossing and the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation among others. She taught composition and orchestration at Roosevelt University (2000-2016) before leaving to launch her freelance career. She earned degrees in music composition at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (B.M.), University of Chicago (M.A.), and Indiana University-Bloomington (D.M.).

Dr. Zanaida Stewart Robles is a fierce advocate for diversity and inclusion in music education and performance. Born, raised, and educated in Southern California, she is in demand as a vocalist, conductor, clinician and adjudicator for competitions, festivals, and conferences related to choral and solo vocal music. She serves on the national board of the National Association of Negro Musicians and is chair of the board of directors of Tonality, a non-profit organization that promotes peace, unity, and social justice through choral music performance in Los Angeles. She holds degrees from the USC Thornton School of Music (D.M.A.), CSU Northridge (M.M.), and CSU Long Beach (B.M.).  As a performing arts instructor, Dr. Robles conducts numerous choral ensembles at Harvard-Westlake Upper School in Studio City, CA. She served for five years as music director for “Project Messiah” with Street Symphony, an organization that engages communities directly affected by homelessness and incarceration through performances, workshops and teaching artistry.  Her compositions have been performed by the L.A. Master Chorale and Tonality and recent commissions include the California Choral Directors Association All-State Honor Choir.

As a prolific composer who blends Chinese and Western traditions, transcending cultural and musical boundaries, Dr. Chen Yi is a recipient of the Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001. She has been Lorena Cravens/Millsap/ Missouri Distinguished Professor at the Conservatory of Music and Dance in the University of Missouri-Kansas City since 1998. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2005, and the American Academy of Arts & Letters in 2019. Born in China, Ms. Chen received bachelor and master’s degrees from the Central Conservatory in Beijing, and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Columbia University in New York. She has served as Composer-in-Residence for Chanticleer and taught composition at Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. Her music is published by Theodore Presser Company, performed worldwide, and recorded on over 100 CDs.  Recent premieres have included works performed by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Grossman Ensemble, China Philharmonic in Beijing, and the Hawaii Symphony in Honolulu.


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