The Choral Composers Workshop by Renae Eldridge

renae“You got in?!”

“Yeah…” I barely had breath to give my husband a better answer, as I sat staring dazedly at the email which I could hardly believe I was reading.

I remembered the “stay-at-home mom” I had been only a few short years ago, before my return to school, how I would scribble analyses all over the music I brought home from our church choir, how I would secretly write my own choral arrangements which I was never going to show to anyone, because “What if they were no good?” I remembered the girl who sat and her piano and wept because she wanted someone to teach her to write music.

Fast-forward a few years: I am very gratefully studying music composition with Dr. Kimberly Archer. I have been given the job of directing our church choir whose music I still scribble all over. In the process of choosing music for my choir, and through singing with SIUE’s concert choir, I have been exposed to lots of choral literature, and of course, I have found several favorite choral composers to fall in love with. So, when I stumbled across an advertisement for the John Ness Beck Choral Composers’ Workshop and saw that the featured composers just happened to be Craig Courtney, Dan Forrest, and Howard Helvey – some of the very favorites – the composers whose websites I stalk when looking for music for my choir to perform- I knew right away that I had to apply.

“Apply” that’s the key word. I did apply – twice. I was rejected for the 2016 study group. This was not at all unexpected, as the workshop only accepts a small number of applicants nationwide. I was therefore rather in shock when I received the email informing me that I was one of the twenty choral composers chosen to study with Courtney, Forrest, and Helvey in the 2017 workshop.

In a household consisting of a working father, a student mother, and five children, funds are extremely limited. I had no idea how I was going pay for the tuition, travel, and hotel expenses for the week-long event. I only knew that I was going – even if it meant that I had to sweep mud in the streets for a year. However, Drs. Archer and Michael Mishra were very kind in helping me to apply for school funding, which helped to ease the financial burden.

How grateful I am for this opportunity! I was able to spend the better part of a week getting to know other choral composers and learning from some of the top composers and editors in the genre that I am most interested in writing for. Along with teaching seminars covering topics including melody, form, lyrics, dealing with composer’s doubt, the business side of composing, the individual writers’ creative processes, etc., each student was allotted twenty minutes in which their own compositions were read by a group of hired singers and critiqued by Craig, Dan, and Howard. I thought my pencil would ignite as I to catch every word. Lunch breaks were spent in small groups with each composer, so that we could get to know one another, and could ask questions.

I was surprised to learn how many of the composers who have attended the John Ness Beck Workshop ended up being published by Beckenhorst Press, the company for which Craig and Dan are editors. In fact, two of the students in my own group have already signed contracts for their pieces. I think that it is not an exaggeration to say that this workshop has been life changing. I am very grateful for the opportunity to get to know and learn from some wonderful people. From the bottom of my heart, I wish to thank not only SIUE, Drs. Archer, and Mishra for their helping me to finance this trip, but I want to thank all of the wonderful professors who have and are still helping me to learn so much.


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