Following the success of the program in 2017, Coro Innominata has announced the return of its Women Composers Development Program in 2020. Two composers will have the opportunity to work with the Coro Innominata under the guidance of a composer mentor – this year Clare Maclean – to prepare pieces for performance as part of the choir’s concert Renewal, scheduled (COVID-19 restrictions permitting) for November 29. Each composer will also receive a $500 hororarium as part of the program. Coro Innominata’s Musical Director Margaret Tesch-Muller spoke to Limelight about the successes of the 2017 program, and why she felt it was so important to push ahead with the program in an otherwise disrupted 2020.

Margaret Tesch-Muller and Coro Innominata. Photo supplied

What inspired you to bring back the Women Composers Development Program this year?

I was a fan of the program since it was first instigated by Coro’s previous director, Sally Whitwell, in 2017. When I took over the choir from Sally last year it was always my intention to make this an ongoing opportunity. Being fairly new to the Sydney music scene (I live in Brisbane and commute down each week), last year was about finding my feet and getting to know Coro Innominata as a unique instrument, and having done that, we were all very much looking forward to making this a centrepiece of our year in 2020. Promoting new music, Australian music and accelerating gender parity in the arts are all key programming goals for both myself as Director and also for the choir, so being able to combine all three into this program merges those aims beautifully and speaks to what is important to us a choir.

Why was it so important to you to retain this program even with much of the rest of the 2020 season cancelled?

Like musicians worldwide I grieved the mess of unhappenings that my diary became this year as the global crisis took hold and performance after performance was cancelled. I was fortunate to be thrown a lifeline in the form of a commission from The Australian Voices which gave me hope and purpose in an otherwise floundering year. It was important to me to be able to share that same gift and pay it forward in a way. I have seen the despair that many emerging musicians are feeling as they wonder if there will be an industry left for them to join, and we have all heard reports that the economic and opportunity cost of this downturn will disproportionately be borne by women. The choir felt quite passionately about contributing in a tangible way in the face of this crisis. While we can’t yet sing together, we can do this together.

What were the most significant lessons learned through the 2017 program?

Timing is vital to the success of the program. Contemporary choral music often has its own challenges for a choir, and music by composers who are relatively inexperienced in writing for the choir as an instrument can be less instinctive to learn. Certainly, this is where the mentor and workshopping opportunities can really help as the composers have an opportunity to discover what works and what doesn’t, but it is also important that the choir has enough time to prepare and feel really comfortable with any changes that may be made.

What were the biggest successes of the 2017 program?

Having the composers work collaboratively with the choir on developing their new pieces created a strong sense of ownership in the program from both sides. The program created invaluable opportunities for the participating composers to hear their compositions come to life during the rehearsal period and from that feedback were able to make improvements ahead of the premiere.

“It gave me the opportunity to glimpse working as a composer in a professional context; to learn logistics about score preparation, delivery and management – which is something that is best learnt by doing,” said Sophie Van Dijk, who, along with Jos Markerink, participated in 2017.

“The program has been absolutely extraordinary. Being able to pick the mind of people like Jessica [Wells] and Sally [Whitwell] has just been such an invaluable opportunity and having a choir just ready and available to sing anything you throw at them is such an amazing thing,” said Jos Markerink.

Margaret Tesch-Muller. Photo supplied

What do you think Clare Maclean will bring to this year’s program as mentor?

We are beyond thrilled to have Clare Maclean as this year’s mentor – Clare is choral royalty in Australia and New Zealand. She has a vast and intimate knowledge of the repertoire from her time as a chorister in the Sydney Chamber Choir and out of that foundation grew to become one of our most skilled and successful composers for the instrument of the choir. Having a background in education (at the University of Western Sydney) as well as a gentle and generous nature means that mentoring will come quite naturally to her. Her imagination and creativity as a composer are quite unique and we look forward to seeing how her influence and inspiration guides the participants not only through the program, but into the future.

What do you hope this opportunity will mean for the careers of the participating composers?

While women composers have a high participation rate in our education system this is not translating into professional engagement and career success at the same rate, largely due to social and structural limitations. This moment of transitioning from an emerging composer to a professional is the moment where we lose most women on the path. This is when extra support and opportunity is particularly required.

It is our hope that by providing the participating composers with access to professional mentorship, an opportunity for direct feedback from the performers as they hone their craft and a recording of their work, we are providing a stepping-stone on a path towards an established and vibrant career. 2017 WCDP participant Sophie Van Dijk, for instance, has since gone on to write for Gondwana Choirs and was composer-in-residence at Trinity Grammar School in 2019, establishing herself as a known entity in the Australian choral scene.

In 2020 we are particularly interested in applications from Indigenous or minority backgrounds, rural and regional composers, or indeed anyone else that may face additional obstacles in their path. The selection process will actively seek out people who lack alternative channels for their work to be performed.

Applicants are invited to submit their applications to by 11.59PM on July 15, 2020

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