From Behind Closed Doors - Chicago a cappella

From Behind Closed Doors

Program Notes


Hor che la vaga aurora

Vittoria Aleotti

Mass for 5 voices
Agnus Dei

William Byrd

Salvator Mundi (from Requiem)

Herbert Howells

O Crux Splendidior

Sulpitia Cesis

Stabat Mater

Sulpitia Cesis

I Heard a voice from Heaven (from Requiem)

Herbert Howells

O Quante Volte in Van Cor Mio

Vittoria Aleotti


Inna Onofrei

Invitation to Love

Brittney Benton


Sarai Hillman


Florence Price

What lips my lips have kissed

Stacy Garrop

Io v’amo vita mia

Vittoria Aleotti

I shall pass through this world

Margaret Bonds

Notes on the Music

by John William Trotter

Vittoria Aleotti

(c. 1570 – after 1620 or 1646)

Musical prodigy Vittoria Aleotti’s promise as a harpsichordist and singer was recognized by contemporary masters when she was very young.  She was encouraged to take up studies at the San Vito convent in Ferrara, Italy—famous for fostering musical talent—which she did at the age of seven.  At age 14, she chose formally to enter the convent, remaining there for many years. In 1593, she published an entire volume of her works, collectively entitled Ghirlanda de Madrigali (Garland of Madrigals).

Interestingly, there remains an unresolved identity controversy regarding Vittoria, who may be a sibling of, or even the same person as, Raffaella Aleotta, who composed and published sacred motets.

William Byrd  


Byrd was widely recognized and esteemed as a composer during his lifetime, writing music for the (Protestant) English Court.  As a Catholic, he was forced to keep his own devout faith secret.

Today, Byrd’s Masses are revered as outstanding examples of Renaissance polyphony, offering beautiful and inventive vocal lines, profound text setting, and compelling rhetoric.

Herbert Howells 


Despite his many successes as a composer, Howells did not feel free to bring all his music out into the open. He wrote the Requiem in the early 1930’s, and though he utilized some of the musical material in later works, the Requiem itself was not shared for nearly fifty years and was only finally published in 1980.   

Sulpitia Cesis

(1577- after 1619)

Sulpitia Cesis was a nun from Modena in northern Italy.  A prolific composer, she appears to have been particularly fond of dramatic biblical themes, especially those involving the experiences of women.

Inna Onofrei
Inna Onofrei is an Armenian-American composer and educator living in the Cleveland area. Her catalogue includes music for piano, choir, chamber ensembles, orchestra, solo instruments, as well as electronic and electro-acoustic works. Onofrei’s music has been performed in Russia, the United States of America, and Greece.

Onofrei is currently working as a freelance composer and arranger, as well as an educator at Musicologie Cleveland Heights.  One of her most recent projects is an opera based on the Armenian legend “Ara the Beautiful,” with a libretto by Tim Tibbitts.

Inna Onofrei always loved to draw and wanted to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps to become an artist, but then she fell in love with the music. She discovered a way to paint not on a canvas but with sound in the air. Her personal motto is “hands are my brushes, sound is my paint and air is my canvas.”

Onofrei: Lullaby
Winner, 2022 HerVoice Competition

The composer writes: “Lullaby (2017) is a song scored for a mixed choir, set to an excerpt from The Princess, one of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poems, published in 1847. It is a children’s song, sung by a mother to a baby to calm him down. This poem was chosen for its beautiful, poetic and calming setting of the blowing wind, the sea and the sails, as well as a simple language.”

Brittney Benton
Driven by storytelling and imagery, Brittney Benton’s music takes you on a journey through a lush melodic and harmonic soundscape, filled with personality at every turn.  Brittney holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition with a Minor in Music Technology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and is looking forward to attending graduate school in the future. With her experience as a pianist, she has explored writing for a variety of instruments and musical styles. She has a strong interest in working outside of the concert hall, especially in the realm of video game music.

Brittney’s music has been performed by the Bellevue Chamber Chorus, ZOFO, the Beo String Quartet, the Lowell Chamber Orchestra, the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, and more. In 2020, she was named the winner of PARMA Recordings “Summer 2020 Call For Scores”, and the winner of the Bellevue Chamber Chorus’ “Emerging Composer Competition” in 2021. In 2022, she was named one of the winners of Chicago a cappella’s HerVoice Competition.

Recent composition festivals include the 2020 Charlotte New Music Festival and Connecticut Summerfest 2021. She also attended the inaugural Akropolis Chamber Music Institute (ACMI) in 2022. Her principal teachers include Cynthia Wong, Diego Vega, Jennifer Bellor, and Viet Cuong. She has attended masterclasses with Richard Danielpour, Michael Torke, Marc Mellits, Juan Pablo Contreras, and David Conte.

Benton: Invitation to Love
Winner, 2022 HerVoice Competition

 The composer writes, “I discovered the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar late 2020. I found his poem “Invitation to Love” and was inspired by the heartfelt nature of the text. Unlike most poems about love, this poem’s narrator is speaking to a love that hasn’t appeared in their life quite yet. I thought this was a beautiful idea. To represent this, I wrote the music like a lullaby with lush harmonies to imbue the music with a loving, tender quality.”

Sarai Hillman
Sarai Hillman is a Riverdale, Georgia-based composer who began her musical journey singing in the Baptist church, where she gained most of her influence from gospel music. Losing both of her parents in her immediate life before her senior year of high school created the need for an expressive outlet for Hillman, and this pushed her into the world of music composition. Hillman’s music seeks to tell the story of the listener.

Hillman received her Bachelor of Music with a concentration in Music Composition at Georgia State University in 2021. During her time at Georgia State University, Hillman studied voice with W. Dwight Coleman and composition with Brent Milam. She also performed at the 2019 National Collegiate Choral Organization Conference in College Park, Maryland, and recorded the album Heavenly Display with the Georgia State University Singers. Hillman received the very first Tri-Cities High School VPA Choral Magnet Program Director’s Award (2015), and she was selected as a winner of Chicago a cappella’s HerVoice Emerging Women Composers Competition in 2021. Her works have been performed by the Tri-Cities High School Mastery Chorale, Georgia State University Choral Union, Georgia State University Master Singers, Georgia State University Singers, the Seraphim Singers, and Chicago a cappella. When Hillman is not composing, she is using her studies in voice at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Atlanta, where she leads praise and worship. 

Hillman: Peace
Commissioned by Chicago a cappella

The composer writes:

This piece of music is based on the verses of Biblical text that read:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

—Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

—1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)

Written as a commissioned work for Chicago a cappella, this piece of music is meant to act as a prayer that one may not know needs to be said. As we all encounter life’s darkest valleys and brightest heights, it is important to remember peace. Many times, the main avenue for peace is the knowledge of love, knowing that someone is there to share your journey and everything that comes with it.”

Florence Price


Margaret Bonds


At various times, Price and Bonds were teacher-and-student, friends, and even housemates.

Margaret Bonds’ father was a physician and civil rights leader, and her mother was a church musician. She studied piano with Florence Price in High School, began studies at Northwestern University at the young age of 16, earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in piano and composition. She then moved to New York to study composition at Juilliard. While there, she became a friend of Langston Hughes, whose poetry she frequently set to music.  As a pianist, Margaret Bonds was the first black performer to solo with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Florence Price was born in Arkansas, and later educated at the New England Conservatory.  She moved to Chicago in 1927.  Price is the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer in America.  Her continuing friendship with her former student Margaret Bonds led to her becoming known to both Langston Hughes and contralto Marion Anderson, aiding in her further recognition.  In 1964, Chicago Public Schools opened Florence B. Price Elementary School in the North Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago.

Stacy Garrop
Stacy Garrop is a full-time freelance composer living in the Chicago area. Her catalog covers a wide range, with works for orchestra, opera, oratorio, wind ensemble, choir, art song, various sized chamber ensembles, and works for solo instruments.

A longtime friend and colleague of Chicago a cappella, she wrote two commissioned works for our ensemble in 2007 as part of our 15th anniversary season. Recent commissions include In a House Besieged for The Crossing, Shiva Dances for Grant Park Music Festival Orchestra, Goddess Triptych for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and Spectacle of Light for the Music of the Baroque Orchestra. Notable past commissions include My Dearest Ruth for soprano and piano with text by Martin Ginsburg, the husband of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Glorious Mahalia for the Kronos Quartet, Give Me Hunger for Chanticleer, and Terra Nostra (oratorio), commissioned by the San Francisco Choral Society and Piedmont East Bay Children’s Chorus. Her new opera will premiere at Chicago Opera Theater in 2024-25.

Garrop received an Arts and Letters Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Barlow Prize, and many other awards.  In 2022, she served as the featured composer of the Bowling Green State University New Music Festival and the Indiana State University Contemporary Music Festival, as well as a mentor composer Chicago a cappella’s HerVoice Emerging Women Choral Composers Competition.

Garrop: What Lips My Lips Have Kissed
Program note by Jonathan Miller

Critic Arthur Smith notes that in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s best work there is a “lyrical stoicism,” and we certainly see that here. Smith calls this poem “the voice of a woman who has seemingly picked her way through life and love, and has now found herself alone, and is aware of the profound loss of that singing around her and within her.” Millay’s brilliance shines forth in her structural choices as well as her vocabulary. The intense opening sentence takes up all of the first eight lines, while the first line itself, all monosyllables, is “chewy,” taking much effort to speak, let alone to sing. We also are intrigued because the poet does not mention “whose” lips she has forgotten, but rather “what” lips, a word choice more sensuous than personal.

What wonderful material, then, for composer Stacy Garrop to have chosen for this dramatic and powerful work. This piece was composed on a commission from the Dale Warland Singers, the first movement of Garrop’s Sonnets of Love and Chaos. Stacy Garrop brings her characteristic masterful control of rhythm and harmonic dissonance to the service of expressing the text.

Join our mailing list and receive 20% off your next order!

You have Successfully Subscribed!