Chorus America’s 2017 Awards Recognize Outstanding Choruses and Individuals

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April 14th, 2017

Chorus America has announced the recipients of its 2017 awards program, recognizing a broad range of achievements in choral music, including artistic excellence, adventurous programming, innovative education programs, generous philanthropy, and lifetime service to the choral art.

“The 2017 Chorus America Award winners inspire the entire field with their artistry, innovation, and commitment to their communities,” said Catherine Dehoney, president and CEO of Chorus America. “We are thrilled to honor these outstanding choruses and choral leaders.”

Independent panels selected the following individuals and choruses to receive awards, which will be presented at Chorus America’s 2017 Conference in Los Angeles, California held June 21-24.

Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence

This award honors the memory of Margaret Hillis, founder of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, for her more than 40 years of professional achievement and outstanding contributions to the choral field. The award is presented annually to a member chorus that demonstrates artistic excellence, a strong organizational structure, and a commitment to outreach, education, and/or culturally diverse activities.

The 2017 Hillis Award recognizes a children and youth chorus, and goes to The Young People’s Chorus of New York City (YPC), led by artistic director Francisco J. Núñez. YPC brings together children from a wide range of ethnicities, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds, breaking down social barriers through a unique program that challenges every singer to excel at the very highest artistic level. The 425 singers in the organization’s six choruses receive comprehensive academic support to help put them on a pathway to college starting in the third grade, and YPC’s educational and community initiatives reach an additional 1,200 inner-city children in New York City during or after the school day. YPC’s strong organizational structure, dedicated board, and robust fundraising efforts, including a recent capital campaign to build a new state-of-the-art headquarters, have built a strong foundation for this success.

Chorus America Distinguished Service Award

The Chorus America Distinguished Service Award recognizes a member whose long-term service to the choral field significantly furthers Chorus America’s mission “to build a dynamic and inclusive choral community so that more people are transformed by the beauty and power of choral singing.”

Henry Leck is the 2017 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award. Leck founded the Indianapolis Children’s Chorus, which he directed for 30 years and grew into one of the largest and most comprehensive children’s chorus programs in the world with an impressive commitment to diversity and accessibility Widely known as one of the foremost authorities on choral techniques and the boy’s changing voice, Leck has published teaching videos and textbooks. He has also added greatly to the repertoire available for young singers as the editor of two nationally known choral series. A collaborator by nature, Leck is admired for his dedication to broadening the music education community and sharing of educational philosophy with teachers the world over.

Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art

Named after one of the founders of Chorus America, this award was established in 1978 to honor an individual with a lifetime of significant contributions to the professional choral art.

Donald Nally, founder and artistic director of The Crossing, is the 2017 recipient of the Korn Founders Award. An outstanding musician, visionary programmer, and generous collaborator, Nally has established The Crossing as a leading commissioner of new choral works and champion of new choral music. His work with The Crossing has resulted in 13 commercial recordings, broadcasts in over 24 states, and an influence felt throughout the choral field. A strong advocate for higher pay and better conditions for professional singers in choirs, opera companies, and churches, Nally continues to push the envelope of what is possible for the modern professional choral ensemble.

Dale Warland Singers Commission Award

Chorus America and the American Composers Forum partner to present this award in honor of Dale Warland’s lifelong commitment to new music as embodied through his work with the Dale Warland Singers. The award is made possible by the Dale Warland Singers Fund for New Choral Music, a permanently restricted endowment fund established in 2004.

Chorus Austin is the 2017 recipient of the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award. They will partner with rising composer Joshua Fishbein, who won the organization’s inaugural Young Composers Competition in 2014, on an unaccompanied work that will be premiered this coming spring at the annual “Southwest Voices” concert. The program was created by Chorus Austin to showcase works by local artists, and Fishbein will collaborate with Austin-area poet Nathan Brown on his new work.

Chorus America Brazeal Wayne Dennard Award

The Chorus America Brazeal Wayne Dennard Award honors the life and achievements of educator, conductor, and arranger Brazeal Dennard by recognizing individuals or organizations whose work builds upon his commitment to diversity, inclusiveness, and furthering African-American and other diverse choral traditions through performance, research, or the creation of new compositions of significance.

The 2017 Brazeal Wayne Dennard goes to Anthony Leach. At Penn State University, Leach founded Essence of Joy, an ensemble that celebrates music written by African and African-American composers. He expanded this commitment in 1999 by founding a similarly focused community-based ensemble, Essence 2, and six years later, the Essence of Joy Alumni Singers, an extension of Essence of Joy for his former students. Throughout a distinguished career, Leach has championed the rich African and African American choral music tradition through hundreds of performances, seven recordings, numerous festivals, and commissioning projects.

Chorus America Education and Community Engagement Award

This award recognizes education and community engagement programs that expand a chorus’s role in its community. Successful programs demonstrate mission-based program development, viable music education, effective management and fiscal integrity, a commitment to artistic excellence, and collaborations that are sustainable, beneficial, and meaningful for all partners.

The 2017 Education and Community Engagement Award honors the best program by a chorus with a budget under $200,000, and goes to VOICES Chorale of Pennington, New Jersey. The Chorale’s Young Composers Project has reached over 500 children aged 5-12 over its 29 years, developing generations of lifelong choral music lovers by encouraging young singers to write original compositions. Participants engage in a masterclass with a supportive professional composer who provides feedback to extend each child’s ideas, and all compositions are performed in a culminating concert with help from the chorale.

Chorus America/ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming and Alice Parker Award

The Chorus America/ASCAP Adventurous Programming Awards recognize choruses that demonstrate a sustained commitment to adventurous programming through performances of choral music written in the last 25 years. The 2017 winners are:

Choral Arts Initiative, Brandon Elliott, artistic director
The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor
The Esoterics, Eric Banks, founding director
Young Women's Choral Projects of San Francisco, Susan McMane, artistic and executive director

The Chorus America/ASCAP Alice Parker Award honors composer Alice Parker, whose career has spanned six decades and has been devoted to the creation of works for the human voice. The award was established in 2003 to recognize a chorus for programming recently composed music that expands the mission of the chorus and challenges the chorus’s audience in new ways. 

The 2017 Alice Parker Award goes to Cappella Clausura, a Boston-area ensemble dedicated to the performance and study of music by women composers under the direction of Amelia LeClair. Historically an ensemble that performs early music, Cappella Clausura mounted a production of a fully-staged a cappella opera by living composer Elena Ruehr. Requiring a full investment from all corners of the organization, the project represented a daring stretch for musicians and audience alike while staying true to the ensemble’s mission.