They won KC music composition contest. Bonus: Their works will be performed in concert

Patrick Neas
·5 min read

Ed Frazier Davis knows a thing or two about writing choral music and the struggles facing budding choral composers. So he considers it a special achievement to have founded the Institute for Choral Creativity to nurture up-and-coming composers.

The institute, an educational arm of the William Baker Choral Foundation, has already sponsored its first composition contest, and the two winning selections will be performed by the William Baker Festival Singers at 3 p.m. May 2 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Davis, whose father is the acclaimed English conductor Andrew Davis, has been singing choral music since he was a child at preparatory school. He would eventually get several music degrees from various excellent colleges, including, most recently, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance.

Davis has found a welcoming home in Kansas City, where he regularly performs with some of the area’s finest choirs, including the Kansas City Chorale. He is also the senior composer-in-residence for the Festival Singers. Now he’s giving back to the choral community with the Institute for Choral Creativity.

“It began with an idea that I had that the Choral Foundation could start a choral composition contest,” Davis said. “I’ve entered many of those and I think it’s a great way for composers to get their names out there. From personal experience, I can tell you that I’ve become aware of so many fabulous composers just by doing this.”

Davis is also hoping the institute will launch classes for all stages of music appreciation this summer.

“I’m planning to teach a course on the basics of writing for choirs, but we also want to have an intro to reading music class, a basic music theory class, maybe some sight-singing classes,” Davis said. “Kind of general musicianship things.”

But the annual choral composition contest is the heart and soul of the institute. Davis started receiving submissions last fall, and, with the assistance of fellow choral composers Sean Sweeden and Doug Woolery, culled through 302 entries to arrive at two winners, which were announced on Dec. 31.

Thanks to a grant from Jack and Anne Barnard, the Choral Foundation could offer the first prize winner $1,000 and the second prize winner $750. In addition to the performance in Kansas City, the winning work will also be performed in Atlanta and at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. It will also be published through MusicSpoke, a publishing company based in Kansas City.

“I’m pretty proud of what we’re able to offer because, honestly, $500 to $750 dollars is usually the norm for a thing like this,” Davis said. “It’s not super common that you get to offer $1,000 to the winner. And we don’t have an entrance fee. I know many composers are struggling to make ends meet or living check to check, and they don’t have an extra 20 or 50 bucks to throw toward a competition they might not win.”

This year’s winning entry is “Goli az dast beraft” by Iranian American composer Daniel Sabzghabaei.

“It’s a Persian lullaby in Farsi that begins with a melody that’s very alluring,” Davis said. “A big part of why I wanted to award first prize to it is because that melody, which pervades the piece, stuck in my ear. It lingered with me for days after I first read through it. It’s a real winner. Literally, of course.”

Sam Wu won second prize in the William Baker Choral Foundation’s composition contest.
Sam Wu won second prize in the William Baker Choral Foundation’s composition contest.

The second prize went to Chinese American composer Samuel Wu. “There Will Come Soft Rains” uses a Sara Teasdale poem for its text.

“Sam’s musical language has a lot of things that I really like,” Davis said. “It seems simple on the surface, and it’s not particularly difficult for the singer to learn, but there are some things that sneak up on you. There’s a section where he calls for a controlled speed change in a trill, which makes a fluttering effect that’s very effective for that moment in the text.”

In addition to the two winning compositions, the concert will also include music by Hildegard von Bingen, William Byrd and Johannes Brahms. One of Davis’ own works, “At Our Last Wakening,” will be featured. Taken from a sermon by John Donne, the work is accompanied by cello and harp.

“It’s my most recent composition for the Festival Singers,” Davis said. “Donne’s text is full of this awesome imagery. It’s kind of adventurous in the choral writing with a lot of big leaps. And the cello and harp have this great interplay throughout. I’m proud of it.”

During the concert, masks will be worn at all times by audience and performers, and social distancing will be observed.

3 p.m. May 2. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 W. 12th St. $5-$50. festivalsingers.org.

the Bach Aria Soloists are, from left, Sarah Tannehill Anderson, Elizabeth Suh Lane, Elisa Williams Bickers and Hannah Collins.
the Bach Aria Soloists are, from left, Sarah Tannehill Anderson, Elizabeth Suh Lane, Elisa Williams Bickers and Hannah Collins.

Bach Aria Soloists

The Bach Aria Soloists, made up of four of Kansas City’s finest female musicians, will present “Women Power” at 4 p.m. April 24 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s outside terrace.

Coming off of Women’s History Month, violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane, harpsichordist Elisa Williams Bickers, cellist Hannah Collins and soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson will perform works by some of history’s overlooked but most worthy female composers.

“Bach Aria Soloists is all women ourselves and we know that these composers have been misrepresented, ignored and underrated for centuries,” Lane said. “But as the audience will hear in this program, their music is just as great, exciting, and timeless as their male counterparts.”

The composers featured include Hildegard von Bingen, Amy Beach and Florence Price. Perhaps the highlight of the program will be the cantata “Judith” by the 18th century French composer Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre.

“It’s filled with all the drama, politics, war and seduction of any modern Netflix series,” Lane said. “Judith takes vengeance on General Holofernes who was ordered by the king of Babylon to kill and terrorize the Jews. So she snuck into the troops’ camp, seduced him and slit his throat. She returned home triumphant and the Israelites drove out the Assyrians. How’s that for a superwoman superhero?”

4 p.m. April 24. Nelson-Atkins Museum Outdoor Terrace, 4525 Oak St. $20-$30. bachariasoloists.com.

You can reach Patrick Neas at patrickneas@kcartsbeat.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.