Skylark Receives GRAMMY Award Nomination for “It’s a Long Way”

List of Nominees for Best Choral Performance, including "It's a Long Way" by Skylark Vocal Ensemble
Skylark Vocal Ensemble’s It’s a Long Way has received a 2022 GRAMMY Award nomination for Best Choral Performance!

I’m continually grateful and honored that Skylark featured this piece I wrote for them as the title track of their beautiful album, which gives expression to experiences of the pandemic through a musical program of courageous stylistic and emotional range.

The album is available for listening on all major streaming platforms and can be ordered directly from the ensemble here.

Skylark Releases Album “It’s a Long Way”

Album cover with black and white photograph of feather, by recording artist Skylark Vocal Ensemble, album title It's a Long Way
I’m deeply honored that one of my dearest collaborators, multiple GRAMMY-nominated vocal ensemble Skylark, is featuring my choral work It’s a Long Way as the title track of their new album! The album includes a varied selection of contemporary and historical music exploring Skylark’s collective experience of living through the 19 months since their last concert.

The album was released today, September 24, 2021 and is available for purchase directly from Skylark and streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.

Commissioned by Skylark and originally recorded by a virtual quartet for educational use, my piece has been given further life in this stunning new studio recording by the full Skylark chamber choir.

It’s a Long Way will also be featured on Skylark’s album release tour next month in Massachusetts! Concert dates include Friday, October 8, 7:00pm @ the Simon Center for the Arts at Falmouth Academy, Falmouth MA; Saturday, October 9, 7:00pm @ Belleville Church, Newburyport, MA;  and Sunday, October 10, 3:00pm @ First Parish Church in Weston, Weston, MA. Subscribe to Skylark’s season to purchase tickets.

About the Music
“William Stanley Braithwaite’s poem “It’s a Long Way,” although published in 1904, speaks powerfully to me in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic…I’ve sought to honor Braithwaite’s bittersweet words of hope and determination with a choral setting for all of us striving to safely arrive at our journeys’ shore.” Continue reading & peruse the score.

“Fallen Star” to be published in NewMusicShelf Anthology of Trans & Nonbinary Voices

Two songs I’ve written in collaboration with visionary playwright & lyricist Mashuq Mushtaq Deen are being published in two different anthologies this year!

It’s an honor to have our music included in NewMusicShelf’s upcoming publication, NewMusicShelf Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices, Vol. 1.

Fallen Star, the first song we wrote together in 2017, will appear in this anthology in a brand new arrangement for solo voice. I’m thrilled our song will have this opportunity to be found by performers, teachers, presenters, and audiences who are in search of new repertoire created by and/or for trans and nonbinary artists.

Grateful to curator Aiden K. Feltkamp and publisher Dennis Tobenski for selecting our work, and for putting together this fabulous project!

The Methuen Drama Book of Trans Plays book cover

Yet another anthology celebrating trans artists, The Metheun Drama Book of Trans Plays, features Deen’s play The Betterment Society, which includes our song “Come to the Edge.”

It has been such a gift for me to be a small part of this play’s journey through workshops and drafts over the years, and I’m very pleased it will reach a broader audience through this anthology.

Remembering Lois Rudnick

Photograph of Lois and Nell
Lois Rudnick with Nell at the Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, NM, August 2016

A very dear friend and mentor, Lois Rudnick, has passed away. I’d like to share a few memories of her here.

Lois was a true intellectual with a seemingly boundless appreciation for the arts, culture, and the natural world. Her fierce drive to build a more equitable society through teaching, advocacy, and activism was matched by her unfailing (and sometimes outrageous) sense of humor, as well as her affectionate and nurturing spirit. She had an impact on countless people, and I’m very grateful to be among them.

Lois was a scholar, writer, curator, and Professor Emerita in American Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston, who retired to Santa Fe. We met in 2016 when I approached her as a fan of her authoritative biographies of Mabel Dodge Luhan, about whom I was writing a chamber opera (Mabel’s Call). Lois’s writings, and our conversations, significantly shaped my opera. She subsequently became an enthusiastic supporter and advocate for my work, collaborating with me on several public presentations. Our mutual appreciation was the start of a wonderful friendship.

Even in the last few months of her life, Lois published yet another book about remarkable people whose stories reflect the complexities of the American experience (Eva Mirabal: Three Generations of Tradition and Modernity at Taos Pueblo).

Lois lived in wholehearted engagement with the world around her, and I will always remember her for that with love and admiration. Thank you, Lois.


"Eva Mirabal: Three Generations of Tradition and Modernity at Taos Pueblo," 2021

  • Obituary from the Santa Fe New Mexican.
  • Online presentation that Lois gave with her co-author Jonathan Warm Day Coming last month (May 2021) about their new book.
  • Essay by Lois from May 2020 about her journey with with multiple myeloma.

Here is a selection of Lois Rudnick’s works as an author and editor:

Commission from Laura Strickling for The 40@40 Project

I’m delighted to have been commissioned by extraordinary soprano Laura Strickling to write an art song for The 40@40 Project! Praised by The New York Times for her “flexible voice, crystalline diction, and warm presence,” Laura is personally commissioning 40+ art songs for her ambitious and visionary project.

For this song I’ve collaborated once again with my wonderful librettist and sister, Megan Cohen. Titled Woman Walking, our song is a portrait of a solitary woman and present-day flâneuse sauntering city streets. I can’t wait to share this work with you soon!

Virtual Choir Performance of “It’s a Long Way” by SEMMEA Festival Choir

It’s rare privilege to receive a commission and premiere performance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even rarer: receiving  two performances of a new work within a short time!

I was deeply moved by the virtual choir performance of my choral score, It’s a Long Way, given by the Massachusetts Music Educators Association Southeastern District (SEMMEA) Senior Festival Choir.

In early January 2021, nearly 200 high school students remotely rehearsed and recorded their parts with guidance from conductor Dr. Christopher Jackson. Their individual performances were then assembled into this beautiful performance documentation.

I also had the pleasure of participating in a virtual visit with the choir and a Q&A led by Dr. Felicia Barber, alongside fellow composer Joel Thompson.

Commissioned by Skylark Vocal Ensemble for their New Voices for Education project, this work was composed primarily for study by high school and college choirs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The score and a professional recording of this work may be found on Skylark’s website.

World Premiere Recording of “It’s a Long Way” by Skylark Vocal Ensemble

Painting of ocean, sky, and horizon with bright, pale light
“Seascape” (1901), watercolor, William Trost Richards (1833–1905). Public domain.

The World Premiere recording of my newest choral work, It’s a Long Way, commissioned by GRAMMY-nominated vocal ensemble Skylark, has just been released!

Check out Skylark’s website for free access to the recording, score, and oodles of supplementary videos and study materials that their team of artist-educators has put together to make my score visible, accessible, and approachable for high school and college-level virtual choirs.

I’m honored to be featured in this project alongside Jonathan Woody, whose new work I Conquer the World with Words is a gorgeous and dynamic expression of the impact of language.

I applaud Skylark’s support of us living composers and encouragement of young singers’ engagement with new music, as well as providing students and educators with world-class choral study materials.

Skylark: New Voices for Education Commission

I am thrilled to have been commissioned by Skylark Vocal Ensemble to compose a new work for virtual high school and college choirs, to be featured alongside a work by composer Jonathan Woody! Skylark’s fundraising campaign, New Voices for Education, will fund our commissions and the ensemble’s production of free world class online study guides to support young singers performances of these new works in this era of remote learning.

I’m continually impressed by Skylark’s innovative projects through the pandemic and so proud to be participating in this fabulous initiative for choral education!

Learn more about Skylark: New Voices for Education and contribute to the campaign.

Free Music for a Fair Election – Fundraising Campaign through October 4

UPDATE:  This campaign is now complete!  Thanks to the generous donors who contributed $275 to Fair Fight, ACLU, and Rock the Vote Action Fund. As thanks, I will be donating free digital scores of Horizon for solo cello from October 5 through November 2, 2020.

"$200+ Goal Met!" with picture of cello over yellow starburst

Want to support our U.S. democracy while making scores of my chamber music accessible to more musicians? Please consider contributing to my fundraising campaign, Free Music for a Fair Election!

Donate through ActBlue here. Your contributions will support three organizations working for the integrity of the democratic process: Fair Fight, Rock the Vote Action Fund, and the ACLU.

To encourage donors to hit my fundraising goals before Sunday, October 4, 2020 (30 days before the General Election), I will be making scores for solo instruments, selected from my composition catalogue, available for free digital downloads:

If we raise $200, I will release the score of “Horizon” for solo cello for free download.

If we raise $500, I will add the score of “Walks at Brush Creek” for solo piano.

Finally, if we raise my goal of $1,000, I will also include the score of “Triptych” for solo classical guitar.

After this campaign is complete, musicians will be able to download the free digital scores from my website (nellshawcohen.com) from October 5 through November 2, 2020.

Thank you so much for helping me to support the incredibly important work these organizations are doing!

(Disclaimer: Only contributions received via my ActBlue fundraiser through October 4 will be counted. But you are very much encouraged to continue donating to these organizations after the campaign!)

About the Charitable Organizations

Fair Fight is an organization founded by Stacey Abrams to promote free and fair elections by fighting voter suppression efforts, particularly against people of color. They defend people’s right to vote through litigation, legislation, and grassroots activism and organizing.

Rock the Vote Action Fund is dedicated to building the political power of young progressives and leveraging that power for action on issues that affect their lives. They are the sister organization of Rock the Vote, which for 30 years has revolutionized the way we use pop culture, music, art, and technology to engage young people in politics and build our collective power.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is fighting back against attempts to curtail an essential right in our democracy, the right to vote, and working to advocate for policies that make it easier for Americans to vote.

About the Scores

Click the titles for recordings and more information about these works.

Horizon (2013) for solo cello is a sparse, atmospheric work written to celebrate and reflect the aesthetic quality of the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY, and the surrounding landscape of the East End of Long Island (my former home). It has been given wonderful performances by cellists including Louise King, Karlos Rodriguez, Richard Vaudrey, and Fjóla Evans, and became part of a collaboration with dancer and choreographer Callie Lyons. Listen to Horizon.

Walks at Brush Creek (2017) for solo piano was inspired by my daily walks through rural Western scenery as an Artist-in-Residence at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, located on a ranch in southeastern Wyoming abutting Medicine Bow National Forest. With this score, I offer a musical illustration of my emotional responses to this landscape—from the ever-shifting cloud shadows playing over the grasses and sagebrush to the sweeping lines of wooden fences that frame them. Listen to Walks at Brush Creek.

Triptych (2011) for solo classical guitar was composed for guitarist Devin Ulibarri. Triptych (pronounced “trip-tik”) is a term from visual art describing an artwork divided into three sections that are displayed as a group. European Medieval and Renaissance triptychs were usually painted or carved wood or ivory panels connected by hinges for standing or folding, and would have two narrow panels flanking a larger, contrasting middle panel. My three-movement piece for solo guitar reflects this structural model. Listen to Triptych.

Nell’s “Turn and Burn” Awarded OPERA America Commissioning Grant

Opera America Announces Recipients of Commissioning Grants for Female Composers

OPERA America has awarded a Commissioning Grant for Female Composers to Houston Grand Opera for Turn and Burn, my upcoming opera with librettist Megan Cohen!

In Turn and Burn, small-town barrel racing champion Shayla Taylor and ambitious executive Jamie Hernandez aim for a big win at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. When an accident threatens Shayla’s career-defining race, the women discover each other’s strength in adversity. Our  original story informed by interviews with rodeo athletes offers a feminist perspective on contemporary rodeo culture.

A 70-minute one act opera for five singers with an eight-piece amplified chamber-rock ensemble, Turn and Burn is scheduled for a World Premiere production with stage direction by Leslie Swackhamer in Houston next year.

OPERA America’s grant incentivizes opera companies in the United States to commission and produce works by female composers. In addition to Houston Grand Opera’s commission of my work, recipients this year include Beth Morrison Projects for Du Yun’s “In Our Daughter’s Eyes,” which is written by Michael Joseph McQuilken; Boston Lyric Opera for Ellen Reid and librettist Christopher Oscar Peña’s “The Desert Inn;” Guerilla Opera for “HER: alive / un / dead: a media opera” by Emily Koh; HERE for Heather Christian’s “A Practical Breviary: Terce;” Opera on Tap for Kamala Sankaram and librettist Kristin Marting’s “Joan of the City;” Opera Orlando for Stella C. Y. Sung and librettist Mark Campbell’s “The Secret River;” Opera Philadelphia for Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek’s “The Listeners;” and The American Opera Project for Rima Fan and librettist Karen Fisher’s “Precipice.”

I am honored to be included in such accomplished and visionary company!