Previous Winners

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2020 Competition

Winners: Maria Case (ON) for Storm Birds and Kathryn Rose (SK, UK) for I Heard the Bird Cry

Maria Case

Toronto-based Maria Case is a pianist, vocal soloist, conductor and composer. She is Artistic Director of the Annex Singers, now in their 40th season. The text of her Storm Birds is by Toronto poet John Warden. One juror comments that Case’s “jazz-infused style brings a refreshing interpretation of the sentiment expressed in the text, [and that she uses] creative harmonic language that well sets the mood shifts in the text.” The text invites us to “Listen to the breathing world…bruised by stark towers” and takes us to the existential question: “will the birds fall silent even in the deep woods?” This is a deeply provocative text, which according to jurors is set with “real harmonic appeal” and effective “idiomatic gestures.” The music is fresh and engaging, with a delicate, jazz-influenced opening that draws us into the musical story that will blossom into a concluding, rich, eight-part texture on the words:
Is there another story
of a world, startled by children,
filling the streets and the plazas,
storming the golden battlements,
conquering by song?

Kathryn Rose

Kathryn Rose, native of Saskatchewan, is currently studying contemporary sacred choral composition with Paul Mealor at the University of Aberdeen. Her winning entry sets a text by contemporary Welsh-Scottish poet Euan Tait. Rose’s music is “clearly drawing on centuries of choral tradition, very idiomatic though challenging” according to one of our jurors. Another juror comments that the music “pulls the listener in,” and that Rose’s musical motifs, which incorporate vocal slides along with traditional techniques, “are beautiful and deepen the sound of the cry” of the crying bird, which laments the environmental injury suffered by earth. The “gorgeous middle section” (the words of another juror) is a brief, aching moment, setting the words “But oh the sear of perfect beauty!” Jury members also identified the “excellent use of texture” for expressive purposes. The work builds to a glorious eight-part texture at the closing return of the words “I heard the bird cry.” The piece perfectly brings before us the bitter-sweet awareness of the beauty of a world in danger, desperately in need of preservation.

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2019 Competition

Winner: Kevin Pirker (NS) for Meditations

Kevin J. Pirker

Kevin J. Pirker is a composer and pianist entering his third year of a Bachelor of Music degree in Composition. He studies under Derek Charke and Peter-Anthony Togni at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS. Most recently, Kevin was awarded Choral Canada’s  2020 Competition for Choral Writing and the Diane Loomer Award his composition She Walks in Beauty. In 2019, he was chosen as a finalist for Chor Leoni’s Canadian Choral Composition Competition, and was awarded the ‘Barbara Pentland Award for Outstanding Composition’ from the Canadian Music Centre. He has a deep passion for Modern Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic, and Contemporary Jazz (these, among many others), and his music draws inspiration from each of these genres. Kevin is eagerly looking forward to everything the future has in store.

Notes on Meditations

As I get older, I grow increasingly aware of the suffering that exists in this world. It’s all over the news, found at every corner of social media; and I (like everyone) experience it in my own way. Amazingly, even amidst suffering, I can see just how resilient people become. They become stronger and work together. This is especially true regarding refugees. Many refugees seeking a better life for themselves and their families would risk everything in order to find hope in the chaos that surrounds them. It might be the only way to have a new chance at life; a complete renewal. Seeing how these refugees stand with courage inspired me to write Meditations. It is a piece that shares my own personal story of “renewal”; where I was, where I am, and where I want to go. As many university students could understand, the workload demanded of you becomes extremely stressful in short (or sometimes long) periods of time. In times like these, doubting yourself and your place in the world is unfortunately not out of the scope of reality. Throughout the past year, I’ve been attempting to make meditation a daily practice, and it has ultimately boosted my positivity and productivity. Meditation, for me, has been a way of helping settle these internal struggles, while creating music has given me an outlet to share my story. Now, I’m very excited to share it with you. It’s a tremendous honour to have the opportunity to work with the DaCapo Chamber Choir!

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2018 Competition

Winner: Douglas Price (ON) for Laughter & Light

Douglas Price

Douglas Price is a composer and music director from London, Ontario. His composing career began at age seventeen when he wrote his high school’s full-scale musical and was awarded a nation-wide Top 20 Under 20 Award. In 2013 he completed the Music Directing Internship under Dr. Paul Sportelli at the Shaw Theatre Festival and went on to complete his Masters in Music Direction from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. He is currently the inaugural Head of Music at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal. Douglas is inspired by telling stories through music. His most current composition project is a piece of musical theatre based on the true story of ‘Kitsault’, the most well-preserved ghost town in the world, located in the mountains of northern British Columbia.

Notes on Laughter & Light

It is truly an honour to have Laughter & Light be selected as the 2018 NewWorks Competition winner. When I first began working on this piece I was inspired by the many stories I was reading of refugees forced to abandon their homes and seek new lives in new places. The same image kept repeatedly floating through my mind: that of a woman standing on the deck of a boat as it approached the new land for the first time. I imagined her to feel anxious, alone and afraid, yet with a sliver of hope for the future. I imagined her wondering if she would one day call this new land her home.

I wanted the music to reflect the emotional journey this character might be going through. The beginning of the piece is hesitant, nervous, full of anticipation. As it progresses we are introduced to new musical layers as hope within the character builds. Towards the end, to parallel the multiple uses of the word “new” in the lyric, the music takes a surprising harmonic turn. And finally, saluting one of my favourite composers, Leonard Bernstein, and the last few chords of his stunning score West Side Story, I made use of the “suspended 2” chord resolving to a major triad signifying an immense feeling of hope. I am so grateful to the DaCapo Chamber choir for playing such a pivotal role in sharing this piece of music.

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2017 Competition

Winner: Nicholas Kelly (BC) for The Immortal

Nicholas Kelly

Nicholas Ryan Kelly is a BC-based composer who draws inspiration from science, nature, and speculative fiction. He collaborates with wind bands, choirs, soloists, and (occasionally) orchestras throughout North America, and his instrumental music has been featured in performances or workshops by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Victoria Symphony, and the West Point (U.S. Army) band. In 2016-2017, he has so far been the recipient of five awards for his choral and wind ensemble compositions, including the international Edwin Fissinger Choral Composition Prize.

Originally from rural New York State, Nick is now a permanent resident of Canada and lives in BC’s beautiful Okanagan Valley, where he is happily involved in many small-town musical activities. He is a graduate of Ithaca College (B.Mus.) and the University of British Columbia (M.Mus.)

Notes on “The Immortal”
Like many composers, I was first drawn to the poetry of Marjorie Pickthall (and this poem in particular) by the imagery: its vivid atmospheres and sharp contrasts provide a fertile ground for musical exploration. As I worked on this piece, I also came to appreciate the contemporary relevance of its seemingly-romantic message: that “beauty is immortal” even in the darkest of times. I think it serves as a nice reminder of the permanence of the arts, even (or especially) in times of upheaval.
Musically, I reflected the poem’s progression from bleakness to transcendence by gradually morphing from A minor to A major. This compositional technique (progressing from a minor key to its parallel major to exemplify a positive transformation) is very traditional in itself, but the interest in this piece comes from how it is actualized: the detours the music takes through various textures, tonalities, and atmospheres. I hope this reflects–and adds a new dimension to–the richness and variety of images in the words as the choir sings them.

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2016 Competition

Winner:  Benjamin Bolden (ON) for Harvest
Honorable Mention: Justin Lapierre (ON) for Miigwetch

Benjamin Bolden

Dr. Benjamin Bolden, music educator and composer, is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University. His research interests include the learning and teaching of composing, creativity, community music, arts-based research, Web 2.0 technologies in education, teacher knowledge, and teachers’ professional learning. As a teacher, Ben has worked with pre-school, elementary, secondary, and university students in Canada, England, and Taiwan. Ben is an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre and his compositions have been performed by a variety of professional and amateur performing ensembles. Ben was editor of the Canadian Music Educator, journal of the Canadian Music Educators’ Association/L’Association canadienne des musiciens éducateurs, from 2007-2014. He is the proud father of three rascally boys.

Notes on Harvest from the composer

I am so thrilled that this piece has won the competition. I think of it as an understated piece–not the kind to win competitions! It is a very reflective and wistful piece. I have tried to paint with music my impressions of the images of living and working the land that the poem portrays so effectively. For me it is about slowing down at the end of a long day’s work: that time when you are weary and the sun is low and casts a light that makes everything look special and you notice meaning and beauty in the everyday things around you.

Some of my happiest times were spent in hayfields in southern Ontario, piling square bails onto wagons. That wonderful feeling of having done a good, hard day’s work! This piece brings me back to those times, sitting proudly on top of the stacked hay bails as the sun begins to set, lazily gazing about at the beauty of the countryside as the tractor pulled us home.

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2015 Competition

Winner:  David Archer (BC) for In Sweet Music
Honorable Mention: Martin Fairbank (QC) for How Sweet the Moonlight

David Archer

David creates captivating original music to share with his community. Based in British Columbia, he has written music for choir, orchestra, piano, chamber ensembles, and short films. An experienced choral musician, David has recently composed commissioned works for choirs including Vox Humana, and The Linden Singers of Victoria, under the direction of Brian Wismath. His Grant Us Peace, for SATB voices and piano, was published by Cypress Choral Music in 2014. One of David’s newest pieces, Flame and Shadow, won the Six Degree Singers 2015 Young Composers Competition, based in Washington D.C.

David holds a BMus degree from the University of Alberta, where he studied composition with Howard Bashaw, and piano with Patricia Tao. His music has been featured in two Composers’ Workshops with the Victoria Symphony, and also at the the Vancouver Chamber Choir’s 2014 Interplay workshop.  For more information about David, or to read his ongoing blog about , please visit his web site.

Notes on In Sweet Music from composer David Archer

The power of music is really hard to talk about. Shakespeare’s Orpheus poem inspired me to think about how music and inspiration affects me and the people I care about. I hope and imagine that music has the power to change our lives by creating vulnerable experiences together. In this way music helps us have empathy for one another, and this piece is kind of an ode to music.

The Orpheus of legend was someone who could move nature itself just by singing – a powerful image! But the last three lines of the poem are the focus of this music. By affirming the power of music on the soul, the words allow us to share our common struggles by using a divine gift, “killing care and grief of heart”. Using different techniques and sonorities, I tried to weave different strands of emotion together: melancholy, joy, hope, fear, awe – all in an effort to say that in the end, musical inspiration remains a mystery. But we can share it with each other to the fullest. Even if we can’t literally move mountains with our music, we can at least provoke more compassion among those who experience it together.

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2014 Competition

Winner: Matthew Emery (ON) for Night on a Starry Hill.

Matthew Emery

Matthew Emery (b.1991) is a Canadian composer who “writes with an honesty which enchants” (Vancouver Sun). His music has been performed across North America, Europe and Asia and has been heard on national television and radio. Matthew is the 2013 ACDA Raymond W. Brock composition contest winner and the recipient of the 2014 ACCC Diane Loomer Award for Choral Writing.

Emery’s choral works have been performed by renowned vocal ensembles including the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Pro Coro Canada, Canadian Chamber Choir, DaCapo Chamber Choir, choirs at the University of Louisville, University of Arkansas, University of Manitoba, University of Western Ontario, University of British Columbia, Elora Festival Singers, Amabile Choirs, Canadian Men’s Chorus Ontario Youth Choir, Nova Scotia Youth Choir and the National Youth Choir of Canada. Matthew studied with Dr. Stephen Chatman and Dr. Jocelyn Morlock at the University of British Columbia.

Matthew is the Composer-in-Residence for the Amabile Choirs of London, Canada and is a member of the Canadian League of Composers.

Notes on Night on a Starry Hill from composer Matthew Emery

Night On A Starry Hill is a piece that oscillates to and from A major chords with repeated notes pulsating throughout the piece. The music for most of the piece is constantly moving inward and outwards in gentle counterpoint until the final few phrases and lines of the text. The final two phrases moves into homophony, flowing on the text ‘the night on a starry hill” as the music blooms into lush added note sonorities. The song winds to a gentle close with the text “the roads ending” as the choir sings lower in their register bringing back the subtle oscillation for the opening, it slowly lulls to a close.

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2013 Competition

No prizes were awarded for the 2013 competition.

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2012 Competition

Winner:  Sheldon Rose (ON) for Song of Invocation
Honorable Mention:  Jeff Enns (ON) for Le Pont Mirabeau and Tobin Stokes (BC) for Gloria
Sheldon Rose
Sheldon began piano lessons at age 10 and, a year later, enrolled at St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto. Upon graduation he went on to earn a Bachelor of Music degree (Theory and Composition, piano and organ major) from the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. Sheldon’s musical activities have been many and varied over the years, from lounge pianist, to church organist, school music teacher, music director for musical theatre productions, and even a rock band guitarist and vocalist.  He also has extensive choral experience, serving as organist for more than a decade at St. Clare’s Church (Toronto), as conductor for the Appleby College Chapel Choir (Oakville) and as piano accompanist to the Oakville Children’s Choir for 7 seasons.  Since 2006, he has been the accompanist for the High Park Choirs of Toronto.

Notes on Song of Invocation from composer Sheldon Rose The inspiration for the structure comes from the Tenebrae services of Holy Week where the lamentations of Jeremiah begins the evening candlelight ceremony and where each subsequent scripture reading is followed by a choral responsory. With that in mind, I created an original plainsong-style melody with latin text excerpted from the Book of Lamentations, followed by an a cappella SATB setting of Song by Canadian poet Marjorie Pickthall (1883 – 1922).

Knowing of Marjorie’s deep spirituality and the extensive use of religious symbology throughout her other works, I think it is too simplistic to believe that the essence of this poem is that of a person
speaking to a loved one while awaiting their end of life – I believe they are invoking a higher being. To realize this interpretation, I have changed the phrase “sweet heart” to “my love” and capitalized three
specific words: Star (God, in the heavens), Rose (God, one with the sacred feminine) and Love (God, Love Divine).  I call this work, Song of

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2011 Competition

Winner:  Patrick Murray (ON) for The Echo
Patrick Murray
Patrick Murray is a multi-talented young composer, conductor and pianist. Patrick’s original works have premiered at the Gardiner Museum, the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, the KW Kiwanis Music Festival, The Varsity newspaper podcasts, and the Atlantic Music Festival in Maine (July 2011). As a conductor, Patrick recently completed a two-month apprenticeship with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, receiving tutelage from Noel Edison and conducting works in rehearsal. A proud supporter of emerging artists in all disciplines, Patrick has conducted the premieres of many new works by young composers, guest conducted the Hart House Choir, and served as music director for community productions of the Broadway musicals Chicago and City of Angels. Patrick currently studies music at the University of Toronto with Henri-Paul Sicsic (piano), Norbert Palej and Gary Kulesha (composition), and Ivars Taurins (conducting). He is the recipient of the 2008 Lyrical Lines Arts Advocacy Scholarship and a KW Arts Award in the Leading Edge category. Patrick is a graduate of the International Baccalaureate diploma program at Cameron Heights in Kitchener.

In 2013, The Echo was awarded 2nd prize winner in the 22nd annual SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers, in the Godfrey Ridout category for vocal works.

Notes on The Echo from composer Patrick Murray
“Choral music played an important role in my musical upbringing, and I’m continually drawn back to the medium as a vehicle for personal expression. In The Echo by Christina Rossetti – a powerful meditation on the passing of a loved one – I discovered such a complex depth of unresolved emotion that I felt compelled to explore its musical possibilities. The result is a haunting landscape of half-remembered fragments of melody and harmonies alternately sweet and brittle, an aural echo of fragility and loss as evoked by the poet. 

I am incredibly excited about the opportunity to work with Leonard Enns and DaCapo on this piece. Their commitment to artistic excellence and promoting new choral music is a continuous inspiration to composers across this country.”

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2010 Competition

Winner:  Don Macdonald (BC) for Tabula Rasa
Honorable Mention:  Christine Donkin (ON) for Candles and Jeff Enns (ON) for To You, Before the Close of Day.
Don Macdonald
Don Macdonald has a varied musical background that includes experience as a performer, conductor, educator, and composer. He currently lives in Nelson BC where he teaches at the Selkirk College Music Program. Throughout his musical life composition has been Don’s main focus and his credits include commissioned classical works, arrangements and compositions for CD recordings and scores for award winning film and television. He has received two Genie nominations and 5 Leo nominations for his work in Canadian film and recently his score for “Fido” won the prize for best soundtrack at the Gerardmer Film Festival in France. Commissioned works for choir, orchestra and concert band have been performed and recorded by ensembles in Canada and abroad.

His vocal background includes being a founding member of Musica Intima and Chor Leone two of Canada’s premiere vocal ensembles, freelance work with the Vancouver Chamber Choir, and solo work with a variety of ensembles including the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. His conducting experience includes positions as Assistant Conductor of the Vancouver Bach Choir, Musical Director of the Simon Fraser University Choir and studio conductor for film and T.V. sessions. He has played saxophone alongside artists such as Dee Daniels and Mike Stern and has performed on violin for numerous CD recordings and live shows.

Notes on Tabula Rasa from composer Don Macdonald “Blank Slate” – This is the translation of the title. It has multiple meanings for me regarding the composition. It is a fitting title for the Spanish text, written by my wife Allison Girvan, but it is also an apt description  of my compositional process for the piece. Tabula Rasa was written immediately after a very intensive 3 week period of writing music for film.  In this calm after the storm I often just lay my fingers on the piano and try to remove all external stimuli from the creative process, to become a “blank slate”. This is music therapy for me. Each note, chord, rest is played purely for myself  to enjoy the act of creation for creation sake. I wrote most of the notes for this piece before the text was written, which is the reverse order for the creation of most choral works. For some reason the first few chords to me evoked a simple image of a mother and child.  A quiet moment when the mother sees, as she has never seen, the potential of the precious life she holds in her arms. A silent acknowledgement of her child and every child as a “blank slate” with seemingly limitless potential. My wife was able to put this vision into words in the most eloquent manner. The grace and  fluidity of the Spanish language is a fitting choice for such a moment.

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