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2022 PREMIERE|Project Fellows Announced

Artistic Director Brandon Elliott and Choral Arts Initiative Announce Composition Fellows for 2022 PREMIERE | Project Festival, to be held June 28-July 1

Irvine, CA – May 9, 2022 – Artistic Director Brandon Elliott and his Choral Arts Initiative will hold their PREMIERE | Project Festival in Orange County, CA from June 28 – July 1, 2022, which offers selected composers a workshop/commission experience with in-depth seminars, mentoring sessions, and interactive rehearsals with the award-winning choral ensemble. Since the program’s inception in 2018, faculty members have included Craig Carnahan, Dominick DiOrio, Derrick Skye, and Dale Trumbore. A recipient of the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming, the Choral Arts Initiative has premiered over seventy works throughout the past decade; The PREMIERE | Project Festival furthers the organization’s mission to foster and embrace the music of emerging composers that is critical to the choral art form.

Brandon Elliott conceived of the PREMIERE | Project Festival as a place where emerging composers can come to finalize a composition in a workshop setting with a professional chorus, talk about the business side of living as a composer, learn with renowned composition faculty, build a network of like-minded composers, and gain exposure to the latest music in the choral field. “We started focusing on recent grads, those in career change, people who are early to mid-career as composers,” Elliott says. “The inspiration was, ‘Let’s create a professional development experience that models the commissioning experience, from contact and contract, to residency and performance.’”

Composers selected for the PREMIERE | Project Festival come with a composition in progress, or with a finalized work to be adjusted in a workshop setting over the course of the week. The festival concludes with a live and recorded public premiere of each composer’s work. Beyond the premiere, Fellows will have the option to establish a distribution deal with MusicSpoke – artist owned sheet music – under the Choral Arts Initiative ICON Series.

The 2022 PREMIERE | Project Fellows were chosen through a blind evaluation process. Fees for this year’s festival were reduced by 60% to eliminate financial barriers with a goal to make future festival experiences free of charge with increased donor support. This year’s fifteen Fellows represent fourteen cities throughout the United States, and include: Cooper Baldwin (New York, NY), Frank Duarte (Santa Ana, CA), Duncan Tuomi (Portland, OR), Ethan Soledad (Miami, FL), Patricia Wallinga (San Francisco, CA), Arturo “Art” Tapia-Minchez (San Bernardino, CA), hunter t. johnson (Bloomington, IN), Laura Nevitt (Boston, MA), David Walters (Baton Rouge, LA), Benjamin Yee-Paulson (Boston, MA), Sammy Strent (Bethesda, MD), James Keller (Kansas City, Missouri), Andrew Sanchez (Fayetteville, NC), Helena Michelson (Fremont, CA), Mickey McGroarty (Akron, OH).

Meet the 2022 Fellows

Cooper Baldwin (New York, NY) is a composer, arranger, producer, conductor, and performer currently residing in New York City. He is a fierce advocate for collaboration between art forms and the use of music to breathe life and color into storytelling. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music composition cum laude from Oklahoma City University, where he studied with Dr. Edward Knight, Dr. Corey Gavito, Dr. Jamie Whitmarsh, and Lendell Black. He is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and an associate member of the New York chapter of the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL)

Frank Duarte (Santa Ana, CA) (b. 1992) is an American composer, songwriter, conductor, writer, and poet. Recipient of two Global Music Awards, and two ASCAP Plus Awards, Duarte recently won 1st Place in the inaugural University of North Carolina, Greensboro Indigenous Composers Choral Composers Competition. His music, comprised of works for band, choir, electronics, chamber ensembles, and solos, has been performed throughout the United States (Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, Indiana, Michigan, Utah, Virginia), Japan (Kyoto, Seto, Nagoya), Greece, and Colombia. Born and raised in Southern California, Duarte earned five of his seven degrees at Fullerton College. Duarte also holds degrees from California State University, Northridge, and Butler University. He is currently a doctoral student in Composition at Michigan State University as an awardee of an MSU Enrichment Fellowship.

Duncan Tuomi (Portland, OR) (b. 1994) is a choral conductor and award-winning composer based in Los Angeles, California. He currently studies choral music in the Master of Music program at the University of Southern California and studies composition with Dr. Frank Ticheli. In recent years, Tuomi has served as the Tenor/Bass Repertoire and Resources chair for Oregon’s chapter of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). He holds a Bachelor of Music Degree in Vocal Music Education from St. Olaf College. As a composer, Tuomi was the first place winner of ACDA’’s Brock Memorial Student Composition Competition for 2021. He has had works premiered by the Pacific University Chamber Singers, University of Portland Chamber Singers, the USC Thornton University Chorus, and the USC Thornton Repertory Singers.

Bold, dramatic, with an exquisite attention to detail, Ethan Soledad (Miami, FL) (b. 1999) is a Filipino-American composer whose work aims to express emotions in their most raw form. An experienced singer, he incorporates drama in his work, emphasizing the importance of silence and one’s perception of time. Ethan’s music draws from a wide palette of compositional styles and colors ranging from impressionism and neoclassicism to post-minimalism and the avant-garde. His musical style is marked by unapologetic expression, dynamic extremes, and the ability to do more with less but never shying away from doing more with more. His previous teachers include Liliya Ugay and Orlando Jacinto Garcia. He graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in Music at Florida State University 2021.

San Francisco-based composer Patricia Wallinga (San Francisco, CA) connects audiences with unheard stories, voices, and ideas of the modern world. Her music engages with literature, theater, and folk music traditions alongside influences from the classical canon. Her work in chamber music, choral music, and particularly art song has earned recognition from the BMI Foundation, the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, and many others. She holds degrees from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Indiana University. Outside of her work as a composer, Wallinga vocally advocates for equality and modernity in the classical music community. Follow her on Twitter at @pwallinga.

Arturo “Art” Tapia-Minchez (San Bernardino, CA) is an aspiring Tenor, Composer, and Conductor residing in Southern California. Art has a passion for creating music that speaks to people on a spiritual and intellectual level. Many of his pieces are inspired by his love for Interfaith dialogue, LGBTQIA+ representation, Spirituality, and Cultural diversity. Art believes that choral music can be an incredible tool in the struggle to create a more progressive, inclusive, and peaceful society. Art has been singing since childhood, and has participated in several ensembles, including: The Riverside City College Chamber Singers, The University of Redlands Chapel Singers, and The Pomona College Choir. Art is currently working toward his bachelors, and has begun auditioning for professional choral ensembles.

hunter t. johnson (Bloomington, IN) is a dynamic young composer who seeks to write music that gives voice to sentiments he feels are ignored in the traditional classical concert environment. He has completed commissions for art songs and choral works, including several pieces for Grammy Award-winning soprano Christine Brewer. hunter’s composition Stars was awarded the 2017 Missouri Choral Directors Association Opus Award, and his works have been performed by ensembles in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and Nevada. hunter is pursuing an M.M. in Composition at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he currently studies with Dr. Don Freund. He holds a B.M. in Composition from Webster University, where he studied with Dr. David Werfelmann. For more information, visit

Laura Nevitt (Boston, MA) is a conductor, composer, and educator based in Boston. She earned degrees in Composition and Music Education from the University of South Carolina, and a M.M. in Choral Conducting at Boston Conservatory, studying with George Case. Laura is Co-Artistic Director of Nightingale Vocal Ensemble, Associate Conductor at Voices Boston, Lead Musicianship Teacher of Handel and Haydn Society’s Youth Choruses, and Music Director at First Parish UU in Needham. Her compositions have been featured by the Handel & Haydn Society Youth Choruses, Boston Conservatory Choir, Nightingale, Opera on Tap Boston, UofSC Concert Choir, and Choir of Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Cambridge. @laurameredithnevitt

David Walters (Baton Rouge, LA) is an international award-winning composer currently in pursuit of a DMA in choral conducting and composition at Louisiana State University. He serves as a Graduate Assistant and Instructor of Choral Conducting at LSU and as Chancel Choir Director at the University Presbyterian Church. Prior to LSU, David held the position of Assistant Conductor for ISing Choir in Beaverton, OR and served on its Board of Directors. He is a former member of the Portland State Chamber Choir and holds both an MM in Choral Conducting and a BM in Music Composition from Portland State University. A passionate advocate for new music, David has coordinated two successful Choral Symposia at Louisiana State University and established a Composer-in-Residence program at University Presbyterian Church.

Benjamin Yee-Paulson (Boston, MA)’s music is premiered in Carnegie Hall, Jordan Hall, La Schola Cantorum in Paris, the DiMenna Center, and the world opening of Microsoft’s flagship store in New York City. Nationally, Ben’s music won the Costello Competition, a Merit Award from the Tribeca New Music Festival, and multiple finalist positions from the ASCAP Morton Gould Competition. Internationally, he received honorable mention in the Future Blend Competition. He was a composer-in-residence at the Zodiac Music Festival in France, and at DePaul University. Ben's music is played in academic institutions like Harvard University, the Curtis Institute, New England Conservatory, and Indiana University. He is represented by PARMA Recordings. His music is played by ensembles like the American Modern Ensemble, Ensemble Del Niente, NEC Contemporary Ensemble, IU Concert Orchestra, and the New York Youth Symphony. His music is performed by artists like Grammy-nominated cellist Thomas Mesa, and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra violinist Chelsea Kim. Other performances occurred at the European American Musical Alliance, Bard Conductor’s Institute, Atlantic Music Festival, Zodiac Music Festival, Mostly Modern Festival, International Horn Symposium in Belgium, and Charlotte New Music Festival. Ben is pursuing a Doctor of Music at Indiana University.

Sammy Strent (Bethesda, MD) is a composer and multi-instrumentalist from Bethesda, Maryland. Strent’s compositions have been performed by numerous ensembles throughout the country including the Worcester Chamber Music Society’s string quartet in Boston (2019), Transient Canvas in Miami (2021), and the Contemporary Ensemble at the Atlantic Music Festival in Maine (2021). Strent's choral piece, "Continuities", for SATB with Piano and Cello, was selected as a winner from a call for scores at the Frost School of Music; it was premiered on April 27th, 2021 in Gusman Hall at the University of Miami. In addition to composing for classical ensembles, Strent has scored the music in several films, youtube tv series, and plays. Strent currently studies music composition with Dr. Lansing McLoskey; his previous teachers were Dr. Dorothy Hindman and Jessica Krash.

James Keller (Kansas City, Missouri) is a composer, conductor, and baritone from Kansas City Missouri. James received his Bachelor of Music in Composition from the University of Missouri - Kansas City, where he studied both composition and conducting with distinguished faculty, including Chen Yi, Zhou Long, and Charles Robinson. James is currently completing his Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting at Louisiana State University under Trey Davis and Kenneth Fulton, where he serves as Assistant Conductor of the LSU Tiger Glee Club.

Andrew Sanchez (Fayetteville, NC) bridges the gap between American jazz and Western classical music. Sanchez found his passion for composing and conducting at an early age, writing music for a myriad of ensembles. Sanchez has written, performed, and recorded music with top jazz artists such as JD Allen, Bria Skonberg, Matt Wilson, and Melva Houston, while also writing for notable orchestras such as The Piedmont Triad Jazz Orchestra and the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra. Graduating from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Sanchez has studied with top tier jazz musicians and educators Brandon Lee, Steve Haines, John Salmon and Chad Eby. As an Outer Banks native of North Carolina, Andrew Sanchez currently resides in Fayetteville where he serves as the Director of Contemporary Music & Worship Arts at Haymount United Methodist Church and maintains a bustling studio of piano, trumpet, and flute students at the Fayetteville School of Music.

Helena Michelson (Fremont, CA) is a composer based in the San Francisco-Bay Area. First trained as a pianist, she attended San Francisco Conservatory Pre-College and completed her studies in Music at the University of California, Berkeley (BA) and University of California, Davis (PhD). She has been a fellow at Composers Conference, June in Buffalo, Domaine Forget, Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium, and Source Song Festival. Helena Michelson has been a participating composer in Music by Women Festival, New Music at the Bayou, the Opera from Scratch program (Halifax, Canada), N.E.O. Voice Festival, and the Really Spicy Opera Aria Institute workshops.

Mickey McGroarty (Akron, OH) is a choral conductor, composer, and church organist living in Akron, OH with his fiancé Anneliese and his cats Twilight and Piper. He graduates in May of this year with his M.M. Choral Conducting from the University of Akron after studying with Dr. Marie Bucoy-Calavan. He received his B.A. in Music from the same establishment in 2019. Mickey has worked with composers, arrangers, and conductors including Jake Runestad, Deke Sharon, and Barnaby Smith of Voces8. Having completed his master's degree, Mickey plans to pursue a career in collegiate choir directing while also composing and playing organ for Church of Our Savior Episcopal.

About Choral Arts Initiative

We believe that we have the opportunity to be a living metaphor that celebrates unity. We believe that fostering and embracing the music of emerging composers is critical to our art form. We believe that our community deserves to hear the greatest performances of new choral music. We believe that passion and sincerity should be at the forefront of all musical endeavors. We are Choral Arts Initiative.

Choral Arts Initiative is a non-profit 501(c)(3) choral organization comprised of some of the most talented and passionate musicians in the Southern California region. Widely recognized as a champion of new music, Choral Arts Initiative has been praised as “gracefully lyrical” (Voice of OC), hailed as one of Orange County’s “Best Choirs” (CBS News, Los Angeles), and noted for its “sublime” and “triumphant” performances (Textura). Winner of the American Prize in Choral Performance, recipient of the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming, and Winner of the San Francisco Classical Voice Audience Choice Awards for Best New Music Performance, Choral Arts Initiative continues its commitment to musical innovation and excellence. Their inaugural album, How to Go On: The Choral Works of Dale Trumbore, ranked #6 on the Billboard Charts (Traditional Classical Albums), and #4 on the iTunes Best Seller Classical Charts. Their passion for new music has led to the commission of nineteen compositions and the premiere of over seventy works. In April 2022, Navona Records released From Wilderness: A Meditation on the Pacific Coast Trail, composer Jeffrey Derus’ new concert-length work and meditation on the transformative experience of traveling the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile scenic coastal hiking pathway that stretches the length of the pacific coastline of the United States and traverses the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.

About Brandon Elliott, Artistic Director

Brandon Elliott enjoys an expansive career as a conductor-educator, musician, arts leader, and consultant. He is the Founder & Artistic Director of Choral Arts Initiative, an award-winning new music choral ensemble based in Orange County, CA. Under his leadership, Choral Arts Initiative has received critical acclaim and recognition for its artistic excellence, musical innovation, and dedication to performing music from a vibrant roster of living composers. With a passion for new music, he has conducted the premiere of over 70 works.

Equally passionate about teaching, training, and mentoring musicians, Elliott is the Director of Choral and Vocal Activities at Moorpark College. He regularly serves as an adjudicator, clinician, preparatory conductor, guest conductor, and guest speaker for festivals, competitions, and local K-12 programs, and is a semifinalist for the 2022 GRAMMY Music Educator Award. As a vocal musician, Elliott has sung with various professional and contracted choruses. Previous engagements include singing under Craig Hella-Johnson in the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble, Pacific Chorale with John Alexander, and various ad hoc ensembles for artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Beck, Star Wars Live, and Zelda Live.

Elliott maintains professional memberships with ACDA, NAfME, MACCC, and Chorus America. His writings have been featured in both Tactus and The Music Educators Journal. Additionally, he has presented on choral entrepreneurship at the 2016 and 2017 Chorus America national conferences and was a panelist for the CCDA Choral Leadership Academy. He currently serves on the California Choral Directors Association board as the Repertoire & Resources Chair for Community and Professional Choruses. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education and a teaching credential from California State University, Fullerton, a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, a specialist certificate in Music Business Leadership from the Berklee College of Music, and a Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Change and Leadership from the University of Southern California. Learn more at

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Amanda Sweet/Bucklesweet


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