Composers Forum Throws a Party; Judy Blume Heads Pen Pals Lineup

By Espeland, Pamela | MinnPost.com, May 8, 2015 | Go to article overview

Composers Forum Throws a Party; Judy Blume Heads Pen Pals Lineup


Espeland, Pamela, MinnPost.com


Most of us can name a few famous authors, film directors, celebrity chefs or fashion designers. But living composers of new contemporary classical music? Who cares about them?

For 40 years, the American Composers Forum has. Next Thursday it's holding a party in the Landmark Center Cortile, the soaring open space on the first floor, to celebrate its own anniversary and the composers it serves. There will be live music, drinks and snacks, and a program emceed by public radio host (and composer) Bill McGlaughlin. Concurrently, at least 33 communities across the United States will host their own National Composer Night Out events (like National Night Out, but with music and without fire engines).

Founded in 1975 by University of Minnesota music students Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus as the Minnesota Composers Forum, later renamed the American Composers Forum, ACF was originally about creating a community and an audience for composers, whose work is by nature solitary. Larsen and Paulus knew that to grow artistically, they needed to hear each other's music, and they needed other people to hear it. They started putting on concerts.

Today ACF has 1,700 members - composers, performers and educators - in all 50 states and 15 countries. In 2014, it awarded nearly $400,000 in grants to composers and performers of new music. It reached thousands of children through its BandQuest and ChoralQuest programs. Its Faith Partners program put composers in churches and synagogues. Its record label, Innova, one of the nation's fastest- growing new music labels, released dozens of recordings and continued helping composers adapt to the rapidly changing digital environmental. (Innova's motto: "Be everywhere.")

Meanwhile, it launched a concert series, helped create a radio drama, made sure that dance companies had live music to dance to, held composing contests, co-hosted the Composer Conversation Series with the SPCO and MPR and co-sponsored the SPCO's Liquid Music series. Millions of people were touched by its work: as listening audiences to live music, recordings or public radio programs; as students, composers or performers.

"We do so many things," ACF president and CEO John Nuechterlein told MinnPost, perhaps the understatement of the week. "The organization is hard to grasp. We don't sell tickets. We work behind the scenes."

For starters, here's what he would like people to know about ACF: "We're one of the most diverse and innovative organizations in the country, a national organization that creates opportunities for composers to connect with audiences in communities. We're the link between composers and opportunities that support them. We also help communities think differently and more vividly about what a composer does, who a composer is, and how a composer can serve the culture."

ACF has "never been all that public," Nuechterlein said. Next week's party is a move toward changing that. He hopes that by stepping into the spotlight, ACF will attract more supporters for its work and draw more attention to composers.

"We believe that our culture needs new voices, that the work of living composers keeps our culture fresh and alive," Nuechterlein said. And what about the C-word, for classical? "There's a huge debate about the relevance of classical music today. I like to stand up for the word classical. I think it's a good word. It doesn't have to just mean things that are 200 years old. ... We have institutions that perform classical music, and lots of it. What we're trying to do is keep that repertoire fresh and alive."

The American Composers Forum 40th Anniversary Celebration takes place at the Landmark Center on Thursday, May 14. Doors at 6:30 p.m., program at 7:45 (emceed by Bill McGlaughlin), 8:15 celebration continues. With performances by Orange Mighty Trio, University of Minnesota Brass Quintet, Minnesota Boychoir, VocalEssence and Jelloslave. Free, but registration is strongly encouraged (and the right thing to do). …

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