About John Muehleisen

John Muehleisen

Composer John Muehleisen is increasingly in demand for commissions and performances nationally and internationally, particularly from choral ensembles. John has served as Composer-in-Residence for Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble almost continuously since 1996, during which time Opus 7 has commissioned nearly 20 new choral works from him. John also had the privilege of serving as composer-in-residence for the Dale Warland Singers (2003–2004), as well as for Seattle-based Choral Arts, conducted by Robert Bode (2011–2012).


Critical Acclaim.
Muehleisen’s work has received critical acclaim from the very first. His music has been described as:

“imaginatively harmonized and beautifully realized…” and “brilliantly crafted.”

Critic Philippa Kiraly wrote of his Da pacem for women’s choir and soprano solo:

“Dissonance and consonance come together and dissolve into each other creating an atmosphere of peace and calm conviction.”

More recently, in Kiraly’s review of the 2012 world premiere of Muehleisen’s 90-minute oratorio Pietà, commissioned by Seattle’s Choral Arts, the critic wrote:

“Kudos…to Muehleisen for the courage to spend time on such a work and the insight, thoughtfulness, and musicianship [with] which he has created a major religious piece. This Pietà…should enter the choral repertoire with acclaim…It was a privilege to be there, and already I want to hear it again.”

In response to works submitted for the 2013 American Prize in Professional Choral Composition—for which John was awarded Third Prize—one judge described his choral works as:

“Lush, powerful, condensed, then expansive in continual ‘inhalations and exhalations of harmony’—all of this characterizes the masterful writing of composer John Muehleisen.”

Of his two epitaphs for choir and trumpet—Snow. The King’s Trumpeter and When All is Done, another judge remarked:

“Both works are beautiful, deeply satisfying, memorable pieces with highly effective, intelligently written trumpet parts.”

Of his Eat Your Vegetables! – Set One, yet another judge said:

“A complete departure in style, and tremendously rewarding to hear in its humor, inventiveness, and Americana, colorings…a palpable enjoyment, moments of hilarity and utter delight. Yet this work also displays Muehleisen’s considerable skill and there is nothing gimmicky about the effect. This is serious music—that is hilarious!”

Performances, Residencies, and Recordings. John’s works have been performed and recorded by numerous ensembles in the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia, including Choral Arts (Seattle), Choral Arts Ensemble (Rochester, MN), Choral Chameleon, Conspirare, the Dale Warland Singers, The Esoterics, the John Alexander Singers, Kokopelli’s Òran choir, the Louisville Orchestra, Musa Horti (Belgium), Northwest Girlchoir, Opus 7, The Richard Zielinski Singers, Seattle Girls Choir, Seattle Pro Musica, South Bend Chamber Singers, Vocal Arts Ensemble (Cincinnati), and numerous college and university choirs, including the Yale Schola Cantorum. His compositions have been featured on new music festivals throughout the U.S., including June in Buffalo, the Ernest Bloch Music Festival in Oregon, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in Seattle, Indiana State University’s 22nd Festival of Contemporary Music, and the National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterworks Choral Festival in Austin, TX in 2007.

His epitaph for choir and trumpet, Snow. The King’s Trumpeter, was featured by the Dale Warland Singers on the closing concert of the Sixth World Choral Symposium in Minneapolis in August 2002 and at the Minnesota Beethoven Festival in July 2010 with guest conductor Dale Warland. His Peace, Night, Sleep received its Asian premiere in Korea by the renowned Incheon City Chorale guest-conducted by Geoffrey Boers in March 2013. John’s two sets of humorous pieces titled Eat Your Vegetables!—his most popular works to date—have been performed by numerous high-school, college, community, and professional choirs in North America, Europe, and Asia. His work for women’s choir, Joy, which sets two Sara Teasdale poems, was performed in Avery Fisher Hall by The Distinguished Concerts Singers International in March 2014, conducted by Hillary Apfelstadt. His 90-minute oratorio, Pietà—commissioned by Seattle’s Choral Arts in 2012—was chosen by Craig Hella Johnson to open Conspirare’s innovative ComPassion festival in June of 2014. John’s works have been featured at numerous national and regional American Choral Directors Association conferences and at the 2013 Chorus America Conference.

Residencies. John was a guest composer at the 22nd Festival of Contemporary Music in 1988 (along with principal guest composer Joan Tower) and at the National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterworks Choral Festival in Austin, TX in 2007 (along with Stephen Paulus). He has been in residence with numerous choral ensembles, including Choral Arts (Seattle), Choral Arts Ensemble (Rochester, MN), Conspirare, the Dale Warland Singers, the John Alexander Singers, Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, the Quincy Symphony Chorus, South Bend Chamber Singers, Volti, and at University of Missouri–Kansas City, Wake Forest University, and numerous other public schools, colleges, and universities that have commissioned and performed his works. By far, John’s most enduring residency has been with Seattle’s Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble (conducted by Loren Pontén), for which John has composed over 20 choral works over the course of nearly 2 decades in residence.

Recordings. More than 40 of his choral works have been recorded commercially by choral groups including Bellevue Chamber Chorus, Choral Arts Ensemble, the Dale Warland Singers, The Esoterics (2 CDs), Mirinesse Women’s Choir, Northwest Girlchoir, Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble (3 CDs), the Richard Zielinski Singers, and Seattle Pro Musica (2 CDs). In June 2013 Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble released their CD titled As water ascends to a cloud in June 2013, which included two of John’s most popular choral works: Snow. The King’s Trumpeter and Eat Your Vegetables – Set One for choir and clarinet. In September 2014, the John Alexander Singers released four of his choral works on their American Voices CD on the Delos label. In 2015, San Francisco’s cutting edge choral ensemble, Volti, will release their own American Voices CD, which will include the premiere recording of John’s …is knowing…, a four-movement set based on poems by Getrude Stein, commissioned by Volti and premiered in 2012. During Opus 7’s 2012–2014 seasons, the ensemble recorded more than a dozen of John’s choral works, most of which have never been commercially recorded, and plans to release the first-ever CD consisting exclusively of John’s works in 2015.

Awards, Grants, & Education. John was the 1988 recipient of the Louisville Orchestra’s Orchestral Composition Competition Award and has received awards from ASCAP, the University of Washington, and Indiana University. Commissions and performances of his works have been supported by grants from the American Music Center, Meet the Composer, the Jerome Foundation, the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. John was a finalist in the 2000 Dale Warland Singers Choral Ventures Program, and subsequently served as composer-in-residence for the Dale Warland Singers for their final season (2003-2004). In 2013, John was awarded third place in The American Prize for Professional Choral Composition. In 2014 John and Dolce Canto, conducted by Peter Park, were presented with the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award sponsored by Chorus America and the American Composers Forum. John and Peter will be collaborating on the work with renowned poet and librettist, Charles Anthony Silvestri, who will create the text for the work.

John holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Saxophone Performance from California State University, Sacramento and a Master of Music degree in Composition from the University of Washington, where he studied with William Bergsma, William O. Smith, and Diane Thome. During doctoral studies at Indiana University he studied composition with John Eaton, Eugene O’Brien, and Harvey Sollberger and orchestration with Donald Erb, with minors in Music Theory and Instructional Systems Technology. He has participated in master classes, seminars, and summer residency programs with Lukas Foss, Milton Babbitt, Yehudi Wyner, Earle Brown, David Felder, and Bernard Rands.

Commissions. Premieres and recent commissions in 2014 include A Psalm of Life, commissioned by the Quincy Symphony Chorus (Quincy, IL) to honor the 25th Anniversary Season of their conductor, Dr. Phyllis Robertson; There was an Old Person Whose Tears and There was an Old Person of Brussels, commissioned by The University of Wyoming Sing Statesmen men’s chorale, conducted by Nicole Lamartine; Nor I for You, commissioned by University of Wyoming Bel Canto women’s chorale, conducted by Holly Dalrymple; There was an Old Man in a Marsh, commissioned by Illumni Men’s Chorale, Chris McCafferty Artistic Director, conducted by Scott Kovacs.

Past major commissions include This Night and Prairie Waters by Night for the Dale Warland Singers, composed while John was in residence with DWS during their final season in 2003–2004. In 2006 John was commissioned by Conspirare to write a work for 600 voices for the closing concert of their NEA-sponsored American Masterpieces Choral Festival in Austin, Texas. The work, based on Walt Whitman’s Salut au Monde!, was premiered by Craig Hella Johnson and the Massed Festival Choirs in January 2007. Salut au Monde! was nominated for a 2006–2007 Austin Critics Table Award in the Classical Music Original Composition category. In 2008, the University of Wyoming commissioned a work in memory of the 10th Anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard. The resulting work—When All is Done—was premiered at the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice in April 2009, with Matthew Shepard’s mother Judy in attendance. In March 2012, San Francisco’s cutting edge choral group, Volti, conducted by Robert Geary, premiered …is knowing…, John’s setting of four Gertrude Stein texts, and in the same month, Seattle’s Choral Arts premiered John’s most ambitious work to date, a 90-minute oratorio about compassion and mercy titled Pietá, which was a joint commission from Seattle’s Choral Arts and the University of Missouri Kansas City.

Upcoming commissions include The Field, a work for the Harvard Glee Club, conducted by Andrew Clark, commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War; Making Peace, a setting of Denise Levertov’s poem of the same name for choir and saxophone for the Conservatory Singers of the University of Missouri, Kansas City, conducted by Robert Bode; Eternity Passing Over – An Arctic Requiem for Seattle Pro Musica, conducted by Karen P. Thomas, commissioned by Shannon and Peter Polson in memory of Shannon’s father and stepmother; and a work about the two Koreas for Dolce Canto, conducted by Peter Park, in collaboration with the poet Charles Anthony Silvestri. The Dolce Canto project was awarded the 2014 Dale Warland Singers Commission Award cosponsored by the American Composers Forum and Chorus America. All these works will be premiered in 2015.

Publishers. Most of John’s choral works are currently self-published by Muehleisen Music, although several of his works can be obtained from Colla Voce, Santa Barbara Music Publishing, and Alliance Music Publishing. In addition, he and composers Brian Galante, Karen P. Thomas, and Reginald Unterseher are in the forefront of the self-publishing movement and have formed Northwest Choral Publishers (www.nwchoral.com), a collective publishing venture that seeks to mutually promote their self-published choral works.

To contact John, email john@johnmuehleisen.com