Spencer Robert Sanders (UT) – Category 1 (SATB, composers u18)
Eric T Knechtges (OH) – Category 2 (SATB, composers 18+)
Marianne Forman (CA) – Category 3 (Children’s Choir)
Yizhang Liu (MO) – Category 4 (The King’s Singers)
Honourable Mention, category 1 (SATB, u18)
Invitation to Love
Jury comment: Spencer Robert Sanders is to be enthusiastically commended for creating a work that is surely a blast for the choir to sing!
Spencer Sanders is 15 years old and lives in Utah. He reluctantly started piano at age eight but surprisingly loved it. He began composing music when he was nine. His inspiration came from movie scores like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Lord of the Rings.” He’s continued with music for the past 7 years and is studying at Utah State University with Dr. Kevin Olson. In the past he wrote mostly piano and symphony orchestra music. As time went on his teacher kept recommending a choral piece. Eventually he decided to try it out. He started writing choral music just this year and has really loved it. He started submitting pieces to composition competitions in 2018. He won the UMTA composition competition the last two years. He won the state level of the MTNA composition competition in 2018 and in 2020. He also plays the French horn in his school marching band and in the symphonic band. He is the pianist in the jazz band at his school. Writing a piece for this competition has been a great opportunity for him, and having his music reviewed by such amazing judges is a huge honor.
Honourable Mention, category 2 (SATB, 18+)
The Singing Bowl
Jury comment: An enthusiastic Honorable Mention goes to Eric T Knechtges for a meticulously crafted composition with a lovely sense of asymmetrical groove, a playful handling of text, and a climactic moment that builds slowly yet inexorably, feeling truly earned.
Eric Knechtges is currently the staff arranger and composer-in-residence for the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus, and has worked with the London Gay Men’s Chorus, the New York Gay Men’s Chorus, the Seattle Men’s Chorus, and many other choral ensembles around the world. He has taught music theory and composition at Xavier University, Thomas More University, and Northern Kentucky University. He holds a doctorate in music composition from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He is Principal Keyboard for the Springfield (OH) Symphony Orchestra, and (in non-COVID times) regularly performs on keyboard with local theatre productions in the greater Cincinnati area.
Honourable Mention, category 3 (Children’s Choir)
The Gift to Sing
Jury comment: Marianne Forman rightly deserves this honor for writing such a lush, well-structured and moving piece for children’s choir that caught the attention of the entire jury.
A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Marianne Forman has been arranging and composing since childhood. She attained a B.S. in Music Education with concentrations in piano and choral music. Because of her extensive background in church music in both large and small congregations, Marianne is passionate about creating music that is both beautiful and accessible. She is a three-time attendee of the John Ness Beck Foundation Composers’ Workshop, studying composition under Craig Courtney, Dan Forrest, and Howard Helvey. Her pieces are published with Beckenhorst Press, and her submission piece (“The Gift to Sing”) for this contest is newly published (for SSAA or SATB choir) in the Beckenhorst Press Concert Series, January 2021. An active church musician, Marianne arranges and composes pieces for the congregation, the choir, and for instrumentalists on a regular basis. She also teaches private piano lessons from her home in sunny San Diego, where she resides with her husband and four children.
Honourable Mention, category 4 (The King’s Singers)
When All Falls Silent
Jury comment: Yizhang Liu is clearly an accomplished composer. There were elements of this writing that reminded the jury of Ligeti, with a strong sense of harmonic integrity underpinning what is ostensibly frenetic writing. The jury questioned how possible it would be to perform this piece accurately with voices at the suggested speed, but loved all of the vocal characterization, as well as the uniqueness of the approach to the poetry.
As a composer who crosses cultural barriers through combining Chinese and Western musical traditions, United States-based Chinese composer Liu Yizhang started pursuing his Doctoral of Musical Arts in Composition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory in Fall 2020.
Born in 1995 in China, Liu Yizhang has been flourished in positions where western and eastern cultures blend. After exploration across different genres and various principles, Liu Yizhang’s musical style mixes traditional Chinese philosophies, poetry, and folk tunes with contemporary compositional techniques in the Western tradition. His music is performed internationally in countries including United States, China, Italy, and Brazil.
Additionally, Liu Yizhang has received fellowships and recognitions from organizations and institutions including Melody of Yangtze River: 2020 World Famous Music Institution Exchange Performance Season, the 2019 Lin Yao Ji International Competition for Solo Violin Composition in Chinese Style, Sao Paulo Contemporary Composers Festival, Atlantic Music Festival, International Music Festival of the Adriatic amongst many others.
He attained his Master of Music from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and bachelor’s degree in composition from Oberlin Conservatory. His principal composition teachers include Professors Stephen Hartke, Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Yotam Haber.
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