ListN Up: Sarah Kirkland Snider (September 4, 2020)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up offers an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. This series is sponsored by American Composers Forum/innova Recordings with new releases every Friday on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider’s works have been commissioned and performed by the New York Philharmonic; the San Francisco, Detroit, and National Symphony Orchestras; the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Birmingham Royal Ballet; A Far Cry, eighth blackbird, yMusic, Roomful of Teeth, Shara Nova, and Colin Currie, among others. Current/recent projects include Forward Into Light, an orchestral work inspired by the American women’s suffrage movement, and an opera on 12th-century abbess/composer Hildegard von Bingen, commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects. In fall 2020, Nonesuch and New Amsterdam Records will release Snider’s third LP: Mass for the Endangered, a 2018 work for chorus and ensemble on the global environmental crisis.

Hi, I’m Sarah Kirkland Snider! I’m a composer and Co-Artistic Director of New Amsterdam Records. Thank you to I CARE IF YOU LISTEN and American Composers Forum for creating this wonderful opportunity to think about intersectional gender equity in new music. For my contribution to UNEVEN MEASURES, I decided to focus on new choral music by early career/emerging female-identifying or nonbinary composers, mostly from the U.S. I’m releasing an album of choral music this month, so I’ve been in a choral state of mind recently and I thought I would share some of the music that has inspired me. So without further ado, we will listen to the playlist! I hope you enjoy it, and thank you for listening!

City, Looking In by Tanner Porter, performed by Isobel Anthony, Addy Sterrett, Emma Simmons, Bradley Sharpe, Hannah Goodwillie, Will Watson, Zak Fletcher, and Edward Vogel, conducted by Jasmine Gelber

Tanner Porter is a composer and singer/songwriter of idiosyncratic art songs whose music captivated me this year. City, Looking In, a choral work written on a text of her own about seeing a familiar place from an outsider’s perspective, savors each phrase with a rhythmic flexibility and piquant harmony that recalls madrigals of the late 16th century. Its invitingly tentative beginning conjures a sense of discovery–of the voice and of singing, like a child taking its first steps–so it seemed a fitting place to start the playlist.

Danse Africaine by Jessie Montgomery, performed by Young People’s Chorus of New York City

Jessie Montgomery is a violinist and composer of colorful, deeply musical compositions that focus on the vernacular, improvisation, language, and social justice. I love the harmonic clarity, rhythmic vitality, and sheer joy of Danse Africaine, her uplifting setting of the poem by Langston Hughes. The performance is given by the superb Young People’s Chorus of New York City, who clearly delight in singing every note.

Maha by Gabriella Smith

Maha is a wonderfully inventive, wordless vocal exploration by composer Gabriella Smith, whose music revels in a sense of play and imaginative re-contextualization. Originally written for the New York Virtuoso Singers, this demo recording features the composer herself singing all parts, electronically pitch-shifting the low parts as needed. She wrote the piece by singing different riffs, looping them, and improvising new material on top—and then transcribing it all to score.

Regina Caeli by Hannah Kendall, performed by the Choir of Merton College, Oxford

Regina Caeli is a piece by British composer Hannah Kendall, written for and performed by the Choir of Merton College, Oxford. A pensive setting of the Latin text devoted to the Virgin Mary, slow-moving and interweaving lines evoke gentle undulations, interrupted by cloudbursts of sound. I’m particularly enchanted by her approach to harmony–her creation of dense, striking dissonances that emanate beams of light.

Je Suis by Gerta Raidma, performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Je Suis by young Estonian composer Gerta Raidma is a piece that has haunted me since I first heard it when she participated in a masterclass I gave at HighSCORE Festival in Pavia, Italy. I was immediately taken by its dark lyricism and the introspective, psychologically probing journey on which it takes the listener. The text is an original poem she wrote in French, and the performance is given by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

The Love of Thousands by Reena Esmail, performed by the San Francisco Girls Chorus

Composer Reena Esmail works between the worlds of Indian and Western classical music. Her piece for the luminous San Francisco Girls Chorus, The Love of Thousands, was inspired by a chance meeting with a Catholic nun who told her, “You are the result of the love of thousands.” Reena takes a short philosophical text written on this notion by Linda Hogan and interleaves Hindi-based syllabic structures (tarana syllables) within it. The resulting music is an elegiac and personal reflection on identity and awareness, and like all of Reena’s music, a deeply felt synthesis of different musical traditions.

Darest, O Soul by Mari Esabel Valverde, performed by Cantus

American choral music is perhaps best-known for a certain warmth: a roundness of tone, harmony, and phrasing that evokes the heartland, wide-open spaces, and the fellowship of the American folk song tradition. Texas-based Latina composer Mari Esabel Valverde exemplifies this warmth exquisitely in Darest, O Soul, setting the evocative Walt Whitman poem with the characteristically sensitive command of harmony, voice leading, and prosody that has made her an in-demand composer in the choral world. The radiant performance here is given by the male nonet Cantus, another American gem of vocal music-making.

Semaphore Conductus by Bora Yoon, performed by New York Polyphony and Bora Yoon

Korean-American composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Bora Yoon’s Semaphore Conductus is a choral installation with sound design. Merging early vocal music techniques of Latin conductus with the sounds and tools of modern communication (shortwave radio transmissions, Morse code, conch, gramophone, megaphone, cellphone, etc.) the piece–performed here by New York Polyphony and Bora Yoon–is a stirring meditation on humanity’s deep desire to communicate.

Fortunate Ones by Holland Andrews, performed by The Beacon Sound Choir

Holland Andrews, aka Like a Villain, is an extended technique vocalist, composer, and clarinetist whose bold, expressive music explores the emotive and lyrical space between beatific chant and guttural screaming. “Fortunate Ones” is a song they wrote for the Beacon Sound Choir, an amateur choral group based in Portland, Oregon. “We are the fortunate ones/Who get to be whole again,” the choir sings, slipping between medieval parallel fifths and the warmly-spaced major triads of a grand choral tradition, evoking a kind of quirky Georgian polyphony with the unpolished magic that can only happen with non-professional singing groups.

“Sanctus/Benedictus” from Mass for the Endangered by Sarah Kirkland Snider, performed by Gallicantus

The final track is a piece of mine, “Sanctus/Benedictus” from my Mass for the Endangered, set to a video by Deborah Johnson of CandyStations. Mass for the Endangered, performed by English vocal ensemble Gallicantus (led by Gabriel Crouch), is a celebration of, and an elegy for, the natural world–animals, plants, insects, the planet itself–an appeal for greater awareness, urgency, and action. This track, “Sanctus/Benedictus,” imagines the text of the traditional Latin praising not God but rather Mother Earth, in worship of the majesty of plant and animal biodiversity.


UNEVEN MEASURES is a series dedicated to amplifying today’s women, trans, and nonbinary artists on the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment leading up to the 2020 presidential election. This series is made possible through a generous grant from The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization Inc. to the American Composers Forum and their partnership with I CARE IF YOU LISTEN. The Sorel Organization is committed to supporting gender equity in music and addressing systemic inequities by providing greater visibility for women musicians from underrepresented communities.

We are thankful for our promotional partnership with the New York Philharmonic, whose Project 19 is the largest women-only commissioning project in history and was born of the conviction that an orchestra can participate in conversations about social imperatives and even change the status quo.