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Nell Shaw Cohen in grove of redwood trees

Nell Shaw Cohen is an American composer, librettist, and multimedia artist. She evokes landscapes, visual art, and the lives of mavericks in her lyrical works for concert and stage.

Current & Recent HighlightsNell Shaw Cohen, standing in birch trees holding keyboard
  • Skylark Vocal Ensemble, commission of Sauntering Songs (World Premiere April 2023): a concert-length cantata for vocal soloists and chamber choir, with flute, guitar, piano, and cello. World Premiere live album released by Skylark in Fall 2023. Finalist for The American Prize, Major Choral Works division.
  • Houston Grand Opera, commission of Turn and Burn (2020): a feminist chamber opera about the Houston rodeo, with librettist Megan Cohen. Recipient of an OPERA America Commissioning Grant for Women Composers.
  • Laura Strickling, commission of Woman Walking (2020) for soprano and piano. Featured on album “40@40,” released on Bright Shiny Things (August 2023). Nominated for a 2024 GRAMMY Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. Published by NewMusicShelf in forthcoming anthology The 40@40 Project: Volume 1.
  • Skylark Vocal Ensemble, commission of It’s a Long Way (2020) for choir. Featured as the title track of Skylark’s album, which was nominated for a 2022 GRAMMY Award for Best Choral Performance.
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio, workshop production of short one-act opera The Fire Tower (Fall 2023).
  • NewMusicShelf, publication of Fallen Star (2017/arr. 2020) for voice and piano, with lyricist Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, in NewMusicShelf Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices, Vol. 1 (2022).
  • Landscape Music (landscapemusic.org), Founder & Director of international network of composers and performers (2015-present).
Past Highlights
  • Juventas New Music EnsembleAmerican Wild Ensemble, Landscape Music, Michigan Technology University Visual & Performing Arts, commission of Breath of the Meadow, Heart of the Woodland (2021) for flute, clarinet, horn, percussion, violin, viola, and cello. Inspired by New York City’s Prospect Park and Central Park.
  • The Brass Project, commission of Spiral Temple (2021) for brass sextet inspired by the paintings of Hilma af Klint.
  • Boston Choral Ensemble, commission of Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight, a choral setting of poems for the winter season (Winter 2019).
  • Skylark Vocal Ensemble, commission of Transform the World with Beauty, a vocal ensemble work inspired by Victorian artists and writers (Spring 2019).
  • Montage Music Society, commission of Transforming Foresta piano trio inspired by the land art installations of Andy Goldsworthy (Spring 2019).
  • The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, Artist-in-Residence (2016, 2017, and 2019).
  • University of New Mexico, UNM Opera Theatre, Guest Artist and Workshop Production of opera Mabel’s Call (Fall 2018).
  • Fort Worth Opera, Frontiers showcase, featured excerpts from opera Mabel’s Call (Spring 2018).
  • New Dramatists, five-day workshop of music-theater work with playwright Mashuq Mushtaq Deen (Spring 2018).
  • Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, Artist-in-Residence (Fall 2017).
  • Page 73, Yale Summer Residency and New York Theatre Workshop, Guest Artist in theater workshops (Summer-Fall 2017).
  • Nautilus Music-Theater, Composer-Librettist Studio at New Dramatists (Spring 2017).
  • The American Opera Project (AOP), Composers & the Voice fellowship (2015-17).

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News

Album cover for "Sauntering Songs"


Sauntering Songs

Skylark Vocal Ensemble | Matthew Guard
Juventas New Music Ensemble | James Moore

Watch the trailer:

NEW! Sauntering Songs has been selected as a Finalist in the Major Choral Works division of The American Prize, the national non-profit competitions in the performing arts. Winners will be announced later this year. See the complete list of finalists.

* * *

The first full-length album of my concert music has  been released by three-time GRAMMY nominee Skylark Vocal Ensemble!

Sauntering Songs is available now on all major streaming music platforms, including Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, and Tidal. The CD is available for purchase from Skylark. Read my online liner notes with essays and lyrics.

Skylark’s 75-minute live album features the title work—a concert-length cantata with guest performances by Juventas New Music Ensemble and guitarist James Moore—alongside choral cycle Transform the World with Beauty. Both were commissioned by Skylark and recorded live in concert.

Sauntering Songs (tracks 1-17) is my love letter to wanderlust: weaving together art songs, choral music, and literature into an expansive cantata on the theme of walking. From Walt Whitman to the present day, Sauntering Songs celebrates diverse characters who search for freedom and fulfillment through subversive journeys on foot. Transform the World with Beauty (tracks 18-20) was inspired by the flowering of visual art and poetry in Victorian Britain.

I’m incredibly honored to have participated in this stunning recording that Skylark and our collaborators have created, and now to be able to share our work with you. I sincerely hope you enjoy Sauntering Songs!

—Nell

The scores of Sauntering Songs and Transform the World with Beauty are both available for performance, in full or excerpts. Please contact me for purchasing information.


Upcoming Events


Friday, May 3-Sunday, June 30, 2024

Woodland Creatures
Wallkill River Center for the Arts, Montgomery, NY
A new painting of mine will be included in this group exhibition juried by Susan Siegel. More information here.

Saturday, June 8 (Rain Date: Sunday, June 9), 2024
Auction & Exhibition through Sunday, June 30, 2024

Plein Air Art Walk – Public Event, Charity Auction, and Exhibition
Presented by Mohonk Preserve and Roost Arts Hudson Valley
Mohonk Preserve, New Paltz, NY
I will be painting in this special event celebrating environmental preservation and the magic of creating artworks en plein air. More information here.

Monday, July 1, 2024 at 2:00pm

Emily Siar, Soprano
NATS National Conference, Knoxville, TN
As winner of the 2024 National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Artist Award, soprano Emily Siar performs Nell’s Woman Walking on her featured solo recital at the NATS National Conference.
More Information

More Upcoming Events


Featured Works

SAUNTERING SONGS (2023)

Commissioned by Skylark Vocal Ensemble and released as a live album (paired with Transform the World with Beauty) featuring Juventas New Music Ensemble and guitarist James Moore, this concert-length cantata weaves together art songs, choral music, and literature into an expansive cantata on the theme of walking. Learn more.


IT’S A LONG WAY (2020)

Commissioned by Skylark Vocal Ensemble, this choral setting of a poem by William Stanley Braithwaite was inspired by experiences of 2020. Featured as the title track of Skylark’s album nominated for a 2022 GRAMMY Award for Best Choral Performance. Learn more.


WOMAN WALKING (2020)

Commissioned by Laura Strickling and featured on her album 40@40, which is nominated for a 2024 GRAMMY Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. This song features lyrics by Megan Cohen. Learn more.


BREATH OF THE MEADOW, HEART OF THE WOODLAND (2021)

Inspired by New York City’s Prospect Park and Central Park, this piece was commissioned for a cross-regional concert series of new chamber music celebrating public parks and commemorating the bicentennial Frederick Law Olmsted’s birth. Learn more.


TRANSFORM THE WORLD WITH BEAUTY (2019)

Commissioned by Skylark Vocal Ensemble, this choral cycle was inspired by the flowering of visual art and poetry in Victorian Britain. Learn more.


TRANSFORMING FOREST (2018)

A piano trio commissioned by Montage Music Society and inspired by Andy Goldsworthy‘s land art installations in the Presidio of San Francisco, CA. Learn more.


MABEL’S CALL (2018)

A chamber opera in one act, set in New Mexico, inspired by the life of Mabel Dodge Luhan: an early 20th century writer, philanthropist, and international icon of the avant-garde. Learn more.


WALKS AT BRUSH CREEK (2017)

A work for solo piano written during an Artist Residency at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in Saratoga, Wyoming, and inspired by the landscape of Brush Creek Ranch. Learn more.


POINT REYES FROM CHIMNEY ROCK (2014)

An orchestral tone poem inspired by the coastal landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area and a woodblock print by contemporary artist Tom Killion. Learn more.


Visit List of Works for more recordings and projects.

Header image modified from “Redwood Bark Closeup” by Eric Kilby. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.