Announcing “Sauntering Songs,” a cantata for Skylark Vocal Ensemble

Title reads "Sauntering Songs" with photo of a distant figure walking on a footpath in grass-covered hills
World Premiere Performances in April 2023

I am thrilled to share a once-in-a-lifetime, dream-come-true project, and my third collaboration with the world class Skylark Vocal Ensemble: Sauntering Songs.

A love letter to wanderlust, this World Premiere commission weaves together art songs, choral music, and literature into an expansive cantata on the theme of walking. Influences from rock, folk, and musical theater feature prominently in this score marrying Skylark’s voices with an instrumental quartet. From Walt Whitman to the present day, Sauntering Songs celebrates diverse characters who search for freedom and fulfillment through subversive journeys on foot.

This work is an expression of so much that I’m passionate about, in music and in life. I look forward to sharing this work with audiences in Massachusetts next spring!

Subscription tickets are available now for the three World Premiere concerts as part of Skylark’s 2022-23 season, “a tour de force of innovative programs that re-define the choral experience for singers and audiences alike.” Single tickets go on sale August 25. Learn more here.

THURSDAY, APRIL 20, 2023 | 7 pm
(6:15 pm pre-concert talk)
Simon Center for the Arts
at Falmouth Academy
Falmouth, MA

FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2023 | 7 pm
(6:15 pm pre-concert talk)
Church of the Redeemer
Chestnut Hill, MA

SATURDAY, APRIL 22, 2023 | 7 pm
(6:15 pm pre-concert talk)​
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Newburyport, MA

June 2 Workshop of New Family Holiday Opera

Hear a Christmas fairy tale set in the magical world of “The Wizard of Oz”!

Librettist Edward Einhorn and I first started dreaming up The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, a family opera adaptation of the 1902 holiday classic by L. Frank Baum, back in 2015 while we were both fellows in AOP’s Composers & the Voice program.

This nontraditional Christmas fairy tale set in the magical world of “The Wizard of Oz” has always captured my imagination. Now I’m delighted to share that there will be a workshop preview of our opera-in-progress, in person in NYC and streaming online!

Hear 25 minutes of excerpts from The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, performed in a piano-vocal concert reading of two holiday operas next Thursday, June 2 at 7:30pm EDT at OPERA America’s National Opera Center, 330 7th Ave, New York, NY, in a presentation by Edward Einhorn’s Untitled Theater Company No. 61. “Claus” will be paired with excerpts from Exagoge, Edward’s opera on Passover themes with composer Avner Finberg.

Reserve your ticket here (recommended donation $10; masks and proof of vaccination required). A free livestream will also be available on YouTube and posted for 48 hours following the performance.

On being an independent music publisher

For National Small Business Week (May 1-7, 2022) I’d like to take a moment to highlight self-published composers as small business owners, and to offer some personal reflections on the topic of independent music publishing.

I’ve often come across references to self-published works defined as “unpublished” works; or sentiments that composers might distribute their own work by default, but couldn’t be a “real” publisher. In practice, though, this clearly isn’t true!

Traditional publishing houses may have the capacity to accomplish things that a composer might not always be able to do for their own catalog. And not every composer necessarily thinks of themself as a publisher, or approaches their publishing work with intentionality. But there are composers out there operating (or co-operating) their own independent publishing businesses with significant skill and seriousness. Just a few powerhouse examples that come to mind: Alex Shapiro (Activist Music), Jennifer Higdon (Lawdon Press), and Melissa Dunphy (Mormolyke Press).

It’s important and consequential for folks both within and adjacent to our field to acknowledge the work that composers may choose to take on as their own publishers. Many of us routinely employ a set of skills that go far beyond the act of artistic creation, and that labor adds value to each of our projects.

Preparing a press release, DVD, and score sample for my first opera way back in 2013
Preparing a press release, DVD, and score sample in support of my first opera back in 2013, while I was in grad school.

Continue reading “On being an independent music publisher”

World Premiere Performances of “Breath of the Meadow, Heart of the Woodland”

Historic map of Prospect ParkI’m thrilled to share *six* upcoming World Premiere performances of my new work for chamber septet, Breath of the Meadow, Heart of the Woodland, inspired by the landscapes of New York City’s Prospect Park and Central Park.

My piece will be performed by three outstanding presenters of new chamber music—Juventas New Music Ensemble, American Wild Ensemble, and Michigan Technological University Department of Visual and Performing Arts—as part of Lungs of the City: Olmsted’s Parks in Music, a concert series and all-World Premiere program of works by eight composers celebrating public parks and commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

I’m honored to have co-curated and co-commissioned this program as Director of Landscape Music: an international network of composers and performers whose music engages with landscape, nature, and place.

Juventas New Music Ensemble gives the first performance on Saturday, March 26, 2022 in Cambridge, MA—which will also be presented as a free, live broadcast on YouTube!

Several more performances will follow, including exciting outdoor concerts in Prospect Park (Brooklyn, NY), Fort Tryon Park (New York, NY), and Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (Brookline, MA)—three of the Olmsted-designed parks highlighted on the program.

Concerts

Juventas New Music Ensemble
Saturday, March 26, 2022 at 8:00 pm EDT
Multicultural Arts Center
41 Second Street, East Cambridge, MA
In-Person & Live YouTube Broadcast
Get Tickets or Watch Online

American Wild Ensemble
Friday, May 27, 2022 at 6:30pm EDT
Fort Tryon Park, Dongan Lawn, New York NY
Register for Free

American Wild Ensemble
Saturday, May 28, 2022 at 12:00pm EDT
Prospect Park Audubon Center, Brooklyn, NY
Register for Free

American Wild Ensemble
Saturday, May 28, 2022 at 7:00pm EDT
CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture, New York, NY
Invite only; more information here

Juventas New Music Ensemble
Saturday, June 4, 2022 at 2:00 pm EDT
Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline, MA

Michigan Technological University Department of Visual and Performing Arts
Sunday, October 9, 2022 at 3:00 p.m. EDT
Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts
1400 Townsend Dr, Houghton, MI 49931
In-Person & Live Online Broadcast

Additional concert dates to be announced!

Nell sitting in front of computer with music keyboard

Explore the Music

Le Mystère du Pouvoir Féminin

Le Mystère du Pouvoir Féminin is a fabulous collaborative video piece created by Style412 and The Frick Pittsburgh, scored with excerpts from my choral piece Transform the World with Beauty performed by Skylark Vocal Ensemble. I’m honored to have my music featured in this beautiful work of film and fashion responding to radical Victorian art!

The video was screened on-site from November 6, 2021 through January 30, 2021 to accompany The Frick Pittsburgh’s special exhibition Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement, and is now available for viewing online.

From The Frick Pittsburgh:

“Exploring the theme of feminist freedom, Le Mystère du Pouvoir Féminin (The Mystery of Female Power) captures the essence of Lady Godiva, who over time has become a sexual symbol, political activist and medieval myth. Godiva is often referenced as an 11th-century champion of the lower class, as legend holds that she rode naked through her town of Coventry, England in a challenge to the crippling taxes imposed by her powerful husband. Captured through art, literature, and history, her tale was a popular subject during the Victorian era. Lady Godiva inspired the work of many “Victorian Radicals” and is considered to be one herself through her commitment to justice, freedom, and equality.

Through this collaboration, Style412 delves into Lady Godiva’s mysterious feminine power and takes us on a modern-day journey of her legend. Presenting a cast of emerging artistic talent, we intentionally showcase a piece of work that embodies those less seen and heard within Pittsburgh’s rising fashion industry. Screenwriter Gabrielle Johnson invites us into a story of beauty, lust, power, and transformation. Sustainable stylist Brooke Bryant sources locally-designed or curated pieces inspired by fashions of the Victorian era.

The experiential perspective of Devin Corboy and Caito Amorose paired with an original musical score composed by Nell Shaw Cohen and performed by Skylark Vocal Ensemble, takes us on a journey of visual art, fashion, and symphony; a renaissance of delight and sensory exploration.”

Greet the Winter Solstice with choral music!

Listen to Boston Choral Ensemble’s NEW live recording of Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight, my choral setting of three poems for the winter season, from their holiday concert on December 11, 2021 (Klo Garoute, conductor).

Commissioned and premiered by Boston Choral Ensemble in 2019 through their 12th Annual Commission Competition, “Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight” 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.

Any of the three movements may be programmed separately as standalone works for performance. Read the program note and view the perusal score here.

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: