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

White text on green background reading "Free Music for a Fair Election"

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!)

UPDATE: We’ve met our first fundraising goal! Now let’s get to $500!

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

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 is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to building the political power of young people.  For 30 years, Rock the Vote 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!

Interviews for Skylark, Reflections on Music and Nature, and Houston Grand Opera

Sklyark Plus poster with portrait of Nell
As composers, musicians, organizations, and our audiences work to stay connected during this extended hiatus from live performances, many are turning to online video interviews as a way to continue engaging with the motivating ideas and individuals behind the music of our moment.

Last month, I was honored to be invited by three different interview series for public conversations about my work as a composer writing opera, choral music, and music inspired by nature, respectively.

In early June, librettist Megan Cohen and I were interviewed by Patrick Summers, Artistic Director of Houston Grand Opera, in a private Zoom event for friends of HGO that explored our upcoming opera, Turn and Burn, commissioned by the company for a World Premiere production next year.

My next interview was with Matthew Guard, Artistic Director of vocal ensemble Skylark. Our conversation centered on my choral cycle inspired by Victorian art, Transform the World with Beauty, which Skylark commissioned and toured last year. To watch my interview and lots of great content, please consider subscribing to Skylark+—a special platform to support the ensemble’s artists during this pandemic.

Most recently, I spoke with a composer colleague, Ryan Suleiman, for his weekly interview series Reflections on Music and Nature. We discussed my approach and motivations in composing music inspired by landscape, nature, and place; artists as activists of the imagination; and Landscape Music, the international composers’ network I direct and which Ryan is a member of. Our conversation is available for viewing anytime on YouTube (see below).

Rodeo Houston preview and workshops of “Turn and Burn” with HGO

Several upcoming performances have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19; see list of all upcoming events for current information.

The December ’19 workshop cast & creative team of Turn and Burn at
Houston Grand Opera! L-R: Leslie Swackhamer, stage director; Stephanie Sanchez as Jamie; Geoff Loff, music director; Cory McGee as Virgil; Liz Gautsche as Maggie Ann; Nell; Geordie Alexander as Rick; Megan Cohen, librettist; and Sarah Tucker as Shayla.

This past December, librettist Megan Cohen and I headed back to Houston for the first music workshop of Turn and Burn, our chamber opera commissioned by Houston Grand Opera through HGOco’s “Song of Houston” initiative. Four days of work with our performers and directors culminated in a presentation of the complete 75-minute score, drafted for a reduced orchestration of piano, electric and acoustic guitar, and drum set.

Since then I’ve been revising and orchestrating in anticipation of our second music workshop May 18-22, which will include the full score for rock-classical octet! We’re thrilled with how the piece is taking shape and excited to be taking these final steps in its development towards the premiere production in February 2021.

In the meantime… on Wednesday, March 11 at 7:30pm, rodeo fans will preview the opera in a performance by Miss Leslie and Her Juke Jointers at Rodeo Houston’s “Stars Over Texas Stage”! This reprisal of HGO’s Rodeo Songs cycle will include the World Premiere of “Next Rodeo”—my country song with lyrics by Megan, sung from the perspective of a barrel racer on the road, adapted from the opera. This will be the first performance of my music by a honky-tonk band! Learn more about the event.

“Transform the World with Beauty” in performances by The Astoria Choir, Williams College, and Skylark

Several upcoming performances have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19; see list of all upcoming events for current information.

Transform the World with Beauty, my choral cycle inspired by the visual art and poetry of Victorian Britain, is being featured in concerts by three separate ensembles this spring!

The Astoria Choir logoI am honored that my piece was selected by The Astoria Choir as a winner of their Call for Scores for a program celebrating International Women’s Day. This Saturday in Astoria, Queens, the choir will be performing the first movement, “My First Camera,” which sets a delightful autobiographical text by pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

Williams College logoNext month another ensemble, Williams College Chamber Choir will perform the second movement, “In an Artist’s Studio,” in two performances featuring their ensemble of women’s voices. This movement features Christina Rossetti’s poetic critique of a painter’s depictions of an idealized woman.

Looking further ahead to June, the Grammy-nominated Skylark Vocal Ensemble—who commissioned and premiered this work in 2019—will reprise the full cycle, including the third movement celebrating the designs and aesthetic philosophy of William Morris. Stay tuned for details!

In the meantime, listen to Transform the World with Beauty in the brilliant live recording by Skylark, paired with the texts and visual art that inspired my composition.

SATURDAY, MARCH 7, 2020 AT 8:00PM

The Astoria Choir — “Women in Song”
Trinity Lutheran Church, Astoria, NY

Event information

FRIDAY, APRIL 17, 2020 AT 6:00PM

Williams Chamber Choir — “Looking/Seeing”
Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA

Event information.

SUNDAY, APRIL 19, 2020 AT 4:00PM

Williams Chamber Choir — “Looking/Seeing”
Williams College, Williamstown, MA

Event information.

Landscape Music’s Earth Year 2020 initiative

Landscape Music Earth Year 2020 logo

I founded Landscape Music five years ago (how time flies!) to create an online platform for stylistically diverse composers and composer-performers whose music engages with landscape, nature, and place. I’ve watched this project grow to include 25 members, and to serve as a catalyst for wonderful collaborations with performers and organizations around the country.

This year, I’m coordinating an exciting new Landscape Music initiative:  Earth Year 2020. Our composers are commemorating Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary with activities taking place throughout the year 2020—including new works, performances, music videos, and community events showcasing new music that reflects environmental themes at the forefront of our global consciousness.

Learn more and view all of the participating projects at LandscapeMusic.org!

Additional projects will be announced throughout the year on our website, and on our Facebook and Twitter pages. To be notified of major announcements, including the release of free streaming music and video, consider joining our Landscape Music mailing list.

World Premiere of “Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight” by Boston Choral Ensemble

Snow-covered field with tree shadows
Photograph: Nell Shaw Cohen, Taos, New Mexico, 2019

Saturday, December 14, 3:00pm
Boston Choral Ensemble Holiday Concert
Old South Church
645 Boylston St, Boston, MA
Purchase Tickets

Boston Choral Ensemble will give the World Premiere of Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight—commissioned through their 12th Annual Commission Competition—on the choir’s annual winter holiday concert!

Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight (ca. 9 minutes) features settings of three poems on the theme of winter: “Winter Branches” by Margaret Widdemer, “A Winter Blue Jay” by Sara Teasdale, and “A Winter Ride” by Amy Lowell, all written in the early 20th century by American women.

Each of these poets used vivid descriptions of winter phenomena to convey moments of profound connection to the natural world. I’ve grouped these poems together because I feel they form an aesthetically cohesive set, providing the basis for a musical narrative arc that moves from quiet contemplation (“Winter Branches”) to joyful exuberance (“A Winter Ride”).

I hope you may be able to join me at this very special performance!

Workshop of “Turn and Burn” at Houston Grand Opera

barrel racer

Next month, librettist Megan Cohen and I head back to Houston for the first music workshop of Turn and Burn—our chamber opera commissioned by Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco for premiere in Spring 2021.

Four days of work with our performers and directors will culminate in a presentation on December 9th of the complete 75-minute score, drafted for a reduced orchestration of piano, electric and acoustic guitar, and drum set. Revisions and orchestration will follow, leading to a full score workshop in 2020.

I can’t wait to share the fruits of this process with you all!

New Recording! “Transform the World with Beauty” for Vocal Ensemble

GRAMMY Award-nominated vocal ensemble Skylark gave absolutely stunning premiere performances of my work Transform the World with Beauty, which they commissioned for their Spring 2019 program “Masterpiece” featuring musical reflections of visual art. They recorded my piece during their tour’s culminating concert on the Georgetown Concert Series in Washington, D.C.

In the following video, I’ve paired the ensemble’s recording with texts and images from the Victorian artists and poets—Julia Margaret Cameron, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Morris—who inspired my composition.

Watch below (or on YouTube here), and continue reading for my notes about this work.


video credits

Performed by Skylark Vocal Ensemble (Matthew Guard, Artistic Director). Audio Recording by Dan Shores. Video Editing by Nell Shaw Cohen.

ABOUT THE Work

Transform the World with Beauty, an 11-minute work for SATB vocal ensemble in three movements, is inspired by the flowering of visual art and poetry in Victorian Britain during the 1840s-1870s.

Julia Margaret Cameron, "Pomona," 1872

The first movement, “My First Camera,” celebrates avant-garde photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. In my adaptation of an excerpt from Cameron’s autobiography, this pioneering artist describes the power of her creative impulse when she first took up the camera as a 48-year-old wife and mother. (Image: Julia Margaret Cameron, “Pomona,” 1872.)

“In an Artist’s Studio” is a setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti. She offers an incisive, feminist critique of her brother, Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his obsessive depictions of an idealized woman. (Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Annunciation” (detail), 1849.)

William Morris, "Strawberry Thief" wallpaper design, 1883

The final, title movement is inspired by the work and ideas of William Morris. The botanical and mythological titles of Morris’ sensuous textiles and wallpaper designs are juxtaposed with lofty sentiments from his philosophical lectures and essays. These two strands of Morris’ world, disparate at first, come together into a hopeful vision of society “transformed” through the beauty of nature and art. (Image: William Morris, “Strawberry Thief” wallpaper design, 1883.)