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Cantabile Choirs calls for submissions to inaugural BIPOC song competition

Calling all young Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) composers in Canada! Cantabile Choirs of Kingston is launching its first ever nationwide BIPOC Song Competition and is accepting submissions until Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. Cantabile Choirs has created this competition with the goal of providing opportunities for young BIPOC composers to be featured, supported, and increasingly represented in vocal and choral works.

Cantabile Choirs Official BIPOC Song Competition advertisement. Sourced from Cantabile Choirs website.

Who is eligible to enter?

The competition is open to composers aged 35 and under who self-identify as a member of Canada’s BIPOC community. Submissions are welcome from Canadian citizens (living in Canada or abroad), permanent and temporary residents, and Indigenous peoples in Canada. Composers do not need to be located near Kingston, as this competition aims to be representative of BIPOC composers across Canada.

What are the criteria?

The competition is divided into two categories: one for works created for SATB (Soprano/Alto/Tenor/Bass) singing, and one for works created for unison voices. Submissions to each of the categories may include up to two instruments (in addition to piano accompaniment). Eligible works cannot be published or previously performed.

What is the prize?

To the SATB winner, Cantabile offers a grand prize of $3,000, a publishing opportunity with Cypress Choral Music, and a premiere performance during a 2022 Cantabile Choirs concert, while the unison winner receives $2,000 and a premiere performance during a 2022 Cantabile Grande concert. Additionally, Cantabile offers cash prizes (totaling $5,000) and publishing opportunities for runners-up in the competition.  

A conversation with Cantabile’sArtistic Director, Geoffrey Sirett

What sparked the idea for this competition?

“Cantabile received a generous donation from the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul two years ago to establish an endowment that included a number of special projects, one of which was for the commissioning of these works,” said Cantabile’sArtistic Director, Geoffrey Sirett, in a phone interview on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

“Social discourse over the past couple of years has surged across Canada and in the arts community,” Sirett reflected, “in particular to think about ways that we can increase the representation of underrepresented communities and cultures.”


Why now, and why BIPOC artists?

Sirett spoke to Cantabile’s desire to challenge the “commodification of [marginalized] music by the Western musical world.” During the choirs’ all-virtual season in 2021, Sirett sought to create a repertoire of entirely Black composers. However, he ran into some unexpected challenges.

“Cantabile has always been known for pretty eclectic programming, lots of world music, lots of contemporary music, and representation from a variety of cultures. And even so, I found it really difficult, going through scores, [to find] works by Black composers,” Sirrett explained. “Even a lot of African American spiritual arrangements have been done by white composers.”

This lack of authentic credibility for cross-cultural compositions sparked an interest in Sirett and the team at Cantabile to create space for BIPOC representation in the choral industry.

What are the intentions of the BIPOC song competition?

The all BIPOC jury for the 2022 Cantabile BIPOC Song Competition. Submitted Photos.

The intentions are threefold, Sirett said. The first objective is “How can we just create more music and increase representation by these artists?” Second is the question of how to support BIPOC artists. This goal is being met by partnering “with the music publishing company for publication consideration that increases exposure for emerging composers.” Finally, the offer of monetary prizes helps to support the artists and gives them new opportunities to further their musical careers.

Why Canada-wide, if Cantabile is Kingston-based?

“We expanded the [criteria] to just thinking about BIPOC artists in general, making sure that cultures all across Canada can be included in this competition,” explained Sirett.

The competition also provides an opportunity for broadening Cantabile’s scope and reach nationwide, as Sirett expressed: “The nice thing about opening [the competition] up nationally is [that it also brings] Cantabile into the national conversation as a leader in the choral industry.”

Unconventional criteria to expand choral canon

Sirett explained that he’s most excited about the creative scope of the competition. “Really opening up the criteria for composition submissions, acknowledging the fact that if a composer maybe wanted to draw off of cultural traditions and practices from… another culture or a non-dominant culture, it might not include sheet music.”

This deviation from standardized Western notation provides an opportunity to expand the Canadian choral canon and to decolonize the inherently Western-dominant repertoire, with original works by BIPOC composers.

“What’s exciting here is just being able to not limit the creativity of artists and just seeing what they come up with,” the Artistic Director noted.

Who is judging the competition?

This year’s competition features a jury of well established, notable Canadian choral and vocal musicians from a variety of cultural and professional backgrounds: Dr. Jamie Hillman (Director of Choral Studies, University of Toronto), Dr. Elaine Choi (Director of Music, Timothy Eaton Memorial Church), Andrew Balfour (Composer/Artistic Director, Camerata Nova), and Marion Newman (Performer/Co-Founder, Amplified Opera).

A first run, but hopefully not the last

Sirett expressed he is hopeful that Cantabile’s BIPOC Song Competition “can become a regular, ongoing project, either annually or biannually, that, over the course of the next few years, can continue to build the profile of the competition and bring it to prominence.”

Full details on the BIPOC Song Competition and its guidelines can be found at the Cantabile Choirs website.

Ted Hsu for MPP
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