About John Muehleisen
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Composer John Muehleisen is increasingly in demand for commissions and performances nationally and internationally, particularly from vocalists and choral ensembles. Of his more than 150 vocal and choral works, critics and reviewers have variously described them as “brilliantly crafted”…”stunning and evocative”…”a perfect match of text and music”…”his postmodern sense of tonality…always maintains a strong sense of direction and unity of expression”…”all of this characterizes the masterful writing of composer John Muehleisen.” He has been Composer-in-Residence for Seattle’s Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble almost continuously since 1996, was the final composer-in-residence for the Dale Warland Singers (2003–2004), and served two seasons in residence with Seattle’s Choral Arts Northwest (2011–2012 and 2016–2017).
His music has received critical acclaim from the outset. Of his 1996 setting of The Great “O” Antiphons, R.M. Campbell (Seattle P-I Classical Music Critic) wrote:
“The result was fascinating, underscoring the relevance and suitability of some contemporary music to the church. Nearly always the work is compelling…’Antiphons’ is singular in the way it responds to a great tradition sympathetically yet is individual as well. Harmonies go outward and inward, creating lush textures and crisp dissonances. Muehleisen’s palette is varied and rang tellingly throughout the church.”
Of the CD recording of the same work, Melinda Bargreen (Seattle Times Classical Music Critic) wrote:
“Of particular interest here is John Muehleisen’s The Great ‘O’ Antiphons, imaginatively harmonized and beautifully realized…”
Music 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 a review of the 2012 world premiere of Muehleisen’s 90-minute oratorio Pietà, commissioned by Seattle’s Choral Arts Northwest, Kiraly 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.”
Of his oratorio, But Who Shall Returns Us Our Children: A Kipling Passion (2017), commissioned to commemorate the centenary of WWI (again by Choral Arts Northwest), Dr. Matthew C. Naylor, President and CEO of the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, MO wrote:
“The scale of tragedy in WWI was immense. It is hard to comprehend the impact it had on nations the world over. A new world born, the consequences we still live with. Using the personal story of [John] Kipling, Muehleisen weaves a powerful narrative of the tragic loss to one family – the beloved son of Caroline and Rudyard Kipling. Coupled with a compelling score and orchestration, I was deeply moved over and over again to hear the witness of love of country, grief and hope. Universal, yet personal, it resonates at the deepest levels.
Muehleisen is a masterful story-teller.“
In June 2020, But Who Shall Returns Us Our Children: A Kipling Passion was awarded the 2020 American Prize in Composition for Major Choral Works in the Professional Choral Division. One of the judges had the following to say about the work.
“Terrific respect for the composer for what has been achieved—ambitious, courageous, noble…Most powerful are the soldier numbers and the aftermath. The spare, sparse nature of the sound-world is impressively effective…the work is very heartfelt, the telegrams, especially; some moments of real regality and power (armistice). The last chorus (Sandburg) is a stunner…This is the composer at his best—worthy of Elgar…Bravo. “
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
PERFORMANCES. John’s works have been performed and recorded by esteemed conductors such as John Alexander, Anton Armstrong, Craig Hella Johnson, Lawrence Leighton Smith, and Dale Warland and by numerous ensembles throughout the US, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Asia, including Choral Arts Ensemble (Rochester, MN), Choral Arts Northwest (Seattle), Choral Chameleon, Conspirare, the Dale Warland Singers, Ember Vocal Ensemble, The Esoterics, the John Alexander Singers, Kokopelli’s Òran choir, the Louisville Orchestra, Magnum Chorum, Musa Horti (Belgium), Northwest Girlchoir, Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble, 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 Harvard Glee Club, the Saint Olaf Choir and Yale Schola Cantorum. His compositions have also 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 South Korea in March 2013 by the renowned Incheon City Chorale, guest-conducted by Geoffrey Boers. 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. In 2017, one of the movements from set one, RAH!, was performed at the first-ever Eurovision Choir of the Year competition by Hard-Chor Linz—representing Austria at the competition—conducted by Alexander Koller. Joy, his setting of two Sara Teasdale poems for treble choir, was performed in Avery Fisher Hall by The Distinguished Concerts Singers International in March 2014, conducted by Hillary Apfelstadt. John’s works have also been featured at numerous national and regional American Choral Directors Association conferences, at the 2013 Chorus America Conference in Seattle, WA, and at the 2018 American Guild of Organists National Conference in Kansas City, MO.
Major Works (Oratorios + Cantatas). John’s oratorios on the topics of compassion, mercy, and love (Pietà) and commemorating the centenary of World War One (But Who Shall Return Us Our Children – A Kipling Passion) are proving to be two of his most enduring works. Between them, they have received 21 performances since 2012, most recently with four additional performances of Pietà in mid-March 2019 by conductor Tom Trenney and Sounding Light, including the Ohio and Michigan premieres of the work in the Cleveland and Detroit areas—25 performances in just seven years, an unusually high number for large-scale works, which often fall into obscurity following their premieres. The Kipling Passion, alone, received 10 performances in just over a year after it was premiered in March 2017. These oratorios’ timeless messages of the healing power of compassion, mercy, hope, and love amidst suffering and loss have resonated deeply with audiences.
These works have been performed and championed by numerous esteemed conductors, including Anton Armstrong, Robert Bode, Craig Hella Johnson, Deborah Simpkin King, Erick Lichte, Nancy Menk, Ben Spalding, and Tom Trenney and have been performed by renowned ensembles such as Choral Arts Northwest, Conspirare, Ember Vocal Ensemble of Schola Cantorum on Hudson, Magnum Chorum, Nebraska Wesleyan Choir, Portland Symphonic Choir, the Saint Olaf Choir, South Bend Chamber Singers, and Spire Chamber Ensemble. Pietà was chosen by Craig Hella Johnson to open Conspirare’s innovative ComPassion festival in June of 2014, and Choral Arts Northwest performed John’s Kipling Passion as one of the featured headliner events at the 2018 Northwest Regional Conference of the American Choral Directors Association in Portland, OR. At the invitation of the American Guild of Organists, John arranged four choral movements from the Kipling Passion for choir, brass octet, organ, and percussion, which were featured by Spire Chamber Ensemble (conducted by Ben Spalding) on the “Reconciliation and Remembrance” Opening Celebration at the 2018 National AGO Convention in Kansas City, MO to commemorate the centenary of WWI. And in May 2019, John’s most recent major work—his epic, moving immigration cantata, Borders—was premiered to critical acclaim in Carnegie Hall.
RESIDENCIES. John has served as composer-in-residence for several prestigious choral organizations. By far, his most enduring long-term residency has been with Seattle’s Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble (conducted by Loren Pontén), for which John has composed 25 choral works over the course of more than 2 decades of nearly continuous residence beginning in 1996. John also had the privilege of serving as the final composer-in-residence for the Dale Warland Singers (2003–2004) and for two terms with Seattle-based Choral Arts Northwest, conducted by Robert Bode (2011–2012 and 2016–2017).
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 short-term residence with numerous choral ensembles, including Choral Arts Ensemble (Rochester, MN), Conspirare, Harvard Glee Club, the John Alexander Singers, Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, the Quincy Symphony Chorus, Sounding Light, South Bend Chamber Singers, Volti, and at Harvard University, University of Missouri–Kansas City, Wake Forest University, and numerous other public schools, colleges, and universities that have commissioned and performed his works.
More than 80 of John’s vocal and choral works have been recorded commercially by choral groups such as Bellevue Chamber Chorus, Choral Arts Ensemble, Choral Arts Northwest, the Dale Warland Singers, The Esoterics (2 CDs), the John Alexander Singers, Mirinesse Women’s Choir, Northwest Girlchoir, Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble (3 CDs), the Oregon Repertory Singers, the Richard Zielinski Singers, Seattle Pro Musica (2 CDs), and Volti. In June 2013 Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble released As water ascends to a cloud, a compilation of choral works by Pacific Northwest composers that includes 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 and in 2015, San Francisco’s cutting edge choral ensemble, Volti, released This is What Happened: More New Directions in American Choral Music, which includes 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. Most recently, in October 2018, Oregon Repertory Singers released Shadows on the Stars: Music of Morten Lauridsen and Pacific NW Composers, which includes John’s River Moons, and in April 2019, Choral Arts Northwest released the much-anticipated 2-CD set of John’s WWI oratorio, But Who Shall Return Us Our Children – A Kipling Passion. Both recordings are available in the esteemed Gothic Catalog. Finally, over the course of several seasons, Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble recorded more than a dozen of John’s choral works, most of which have never been commercially recorded and will constitute the first CD consisting exclusively of John’s choral works, release date TBD.
AWARDS & GRANTS
John was the 1988 recipient of the Louisville Orchestra’s Orchestral Composition Competition Award for his 20-minute orchestral work, Visions through the Prism, 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, New Music USA, and the National Endowment for the Arts. John was a finalist in the 2000 Dale Warland Singers Choral Ventures Program, and subsequently had the honor of serving 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, and 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. The resulting work—The Stars Still Shine—was a collaboration between Peter, John, and the renowned poet and librettist, Charles Anthony Silvestri. The commission was premiered in March 2016 and was featured on Dolce Canto’s April 2016 tour to South Korea, where they performed the work with the esteemed Ansan City Choir in a concert broadcast on the South Korean Television Arts Channel. In 2019, John was awarded Honorable Mention in the Major Choral Works Division of The American Prize in Professional Choral Composition for The Field, his Civil-War-themed work for TTBB voices and field drum, commissioned by the Harvard Glee Club and Andrew Clark, Music Director and Conductor. In June 2020, his WWI oratorio, But Who Shall Return Us Our Children: A Kipling Passion, was awarded the 2020 American Prize in Composition for Major Choral Works in the Professional Choral Division.
In August 2020, John’s work Sing to Me! was awarded First Runner-Up in ACDA’s Brock Competition for Professional Composers, and in September 2020, Rooms—a collaborative project conceived by John and the emerging Black female poet, Tyler Griffin Dodge—was selected as one of the seven Finalists in the American Choral Directors Association’s Genesis Prize, which “seeks to stimulate art emerging from crisis by funding both composers and poets to create new choral works that speak to our time with voices of comfort, hope, peace, and justice.” Rooms is an intimate glimpse into the life of Eazy—the poet’s brother—who has premonitions of his own death as he glimpses the deaths of other Black men and women that occur in the future, including Tamir Rice, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. The “rooms” of the title refer to the fact that we get to know each of these historical figures by visiting important rooms in each of their homes, where we discover the essential humanity of these men and women more personally, thus transcending the abstraction of their lives as simple hashtags and slogans. Also in September 2020, John’s immigration cantata, Borders, and the commissioning organization (Great Bend Chorale, conducted by Matthew Melendez) were awarded 2nd Place in the American Prize Ernst Bacon Memorial Award for the Performance of American Music, Community Ensemble Division. As of March 2021, 17 of John’s works have also been accepted into the prestigious PROJECT : ENCORE catalog of contemporary choral music, which is competitively adjudicated and endorsed by a panel of renowned conductors. To qualify for inclusion in the PROJECT : ENCORE catalog, a work must exhibit: “artistic merit, insightful use of choral forces, and exceptional programmability.”
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 2003–2004 season. 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 and 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, conducted by Nicole Lamartine, 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 Northwest (conducted by Robert Bode) premiered John’s 90-minute oratorio about compassion and mercy titled Pietá, commissioned by them in 2011.
In March 2013, just four months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December 2012, the combined choirs of Great Falls and Charles M. Russell High Schools in Great Falls, MT premiered Consolation: Requiem for Newtown for SATB choir and chimes, which they jointly commissioned and which is “Dedicated to the memory of the 20 children and 7 adults slain in the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre in Newtown, CT on Dec. 14, 2012 and to those who mourn their loss.” The response to the premiere of the work (conducted by Patrick Ryan) was stunned, reverent silence, a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives. A repeat performance of the work was given by Patrick and the Great Falls HS Delphian Choir at the 2018 ACDA Northwestern Region Conference and was greeted this time with an immediate standing ovation and tears from their choral colleagues. In 2019 Grammy-nominated Music Educator, Chris Maunu, commissioned John to create a new version of Consolation for SSAA voices, piano, and chimes to commemorate the victims of the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. Titled Consolation: Requiem for Parkland, the new version was premiered by Arvada West High School’s Company West treble choir, conducted by Chris Maunu, at the Colorado Music Educators Association conference in Jan. 2020 and was also performed at the 2020 Southwestern Region ACDA conference in Little Rock, AR.
In March 2015, the Harvard Glee Club (conducted by Andrew Clark), premiered The Field, a work for TTBB voices and field drum, commissioned to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. The Glee Club took the work on tour to multiple Southern cities, including Savanah, GA; Charleston, SC; and Orlando, FL, where it was consistently met with spontaneous standing ovations. Also premiered in 2015 were Making Peace, a setting of Denise Levertov’s poem of the same name for choir, saxophone, and piano, commissioned by Choral Arts Northwest (conducted by Robert Bode) and Eternity Passing Over – An Arctic Requiem, an extended work for SATB soli, SATB Choir (divisi), SA Semi-Chorus, and Inupiat Drum, commissioned for Seattle Pro Musica (conducted by Karen P. Thomas) by Shannon and Peter Polson in memory of Shannon’s father and stepmother. In March 2016, Dolce Canto (conducted by Peter Park) premiered The Stars Still Shine, which they featured on their tour to several major South Korean cities in April 2016 and which they performed with the esteemed Ansan City Choir in a concert broadcast on the South Korean TV Arts Channel. The work was commissioned from John in collaboration with the renowned poet Charles Anthony Silvestri, and the project was awarded the 2014 Dale Warland Singers Commission Award cosponsored by the American Composers Forum and Chorus America. Incorporating several aspects of Korean culture, Silvestri indicates that his poem “weaves together the binary motif of separation and unity with imagery of the four elements of Earth, Air, Water and Fire.”
John’s most ambitious work to date, But Who Shall Return Us Our Children – A Kipling Passion, was commissioned to commemorate the centenary of World War One by a consortium of organizations, including Choral Arts Northwest (Lead Commissioner); Spire Chamber Ensemble; the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri, Kansas City; Ember Vocal Ensemble; and the South Bend Chamber Singers. This epic 2-hour oratorio focuses on the historical account of the tragic death of Lieutenant John Kipling during the Battle of Loos in 1915; on the impact that his death had on his parents, Rudyard and Carrie Kipling; and on how the Kiplings—and, by extension, the entire population of the Commonwealth—came to grips with the immensity of the loss of human life during the war. Ultimately, the oratorio delivers a message of hope and encouragement to those who have lost friends and loved ones in war—and in other tragic circumstances as well—by experiencing the story of a family who loved their son deeply, who struggled to heal from their great loss, and who ultimately found healing through the power of community, compassion, and remembrance. The work was featured as one of the Headliner events at the 2018 Northwestern Region ACDA conference, and a commercial recording of the work was released in April 2019 on the prestigious Gothic label.
John’s multifaceted 2019 cantata titled Borders—commissioned by by Matthew Melendez and the Great Bend Center for Music in collaboration with the Distinguished Concerts International New York Premiere Project—explores the timely topics of immigration, migrants, refugees, and the borders between nations and communities, as well as between individuals. The work takes up the question: How are we to treat the stranger, the foreigner, the outsider, and the “Other” amongst us? The world premiere of this 25-minute work for soprano solo, SATB choir, children’s choir, strings, timpani, percussion, and piano took place in Carnegie Hall on May 24, 2019 as part of the DCINY (Distinguished Concerts in New York) series. It received its West-Coast premiere the following weekend (June 1 + 2, 2019) in Shelton, WA.
Other recent commissions include The Gathering (poem by Robert Bode) for Kirkland Choral Society (Glenn Gregg, conductor), And Music Shall Untune the Sky for choir and soprano saxophone for Wake Forest University Concert Choir (Brian Gorelick, conductor) and Imagination for the eponymously named Donald Brinegar Singers. John is also working on an expanded version of Borders for Great Bend Chorale. The last three works listed above were all to be premiered in Spring 2020, but were postponed due to the pandemic. John and the commissioning organizations look forward to premiering these works when it is safe to sing together and to perform in public once again.
EDUCATION & TEACHING EXPERIENCE
EDUCATION. 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 studied 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.
TEACHING EXPERIENCE. John has had a passion for teaching since he was in high school in Sacramento, CA. He began his extensive teaching experience of over 40 years by teaching private lessons in saxophone, clarinet, and piano; eventually growing his studio to nearly 30 students per week, all while working 5 days a week in a sheet music store overseeing the instrumental sheet music section and playing saxophone on weekend gigs with various Sacramento-area big bands. His classroom experience includes teaching high school concert and jazz band for several years, as well as teaching undergraduate music theory, aural skills, and composition as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at University of Washington, as an Associate Instructor at Indiana University, and as an Adjunct Faculty member at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, IN.
Currently, in addition to his activities as a full-time composer, John teaches private composition lessons in the Seattle, WA area (and beyond, via Zoom) and has grown his teaching studio to more than a dozen private students, to whom he offers a multifaceted curriculum based on each student’s particular needs, including instruction in a broad range of compositional techniques and styles; choral and vocal writing; instrumentation and orchestration; form and analysis; music theory, harmony, and aural skills; as well as his own unique approach to setting text to music, the hallmarks of which involve (1) extensive textual and poetic analysis prior to composing the music—which is allowed to emerge organically from the text—and (2) delaying composing at the piano as long as possible in the compositional process in favor of rooting the music in the voice itself and in the musical imagination. Several of his students have become award-winning, commissioned composers in their own right.
Most of John’s choral works are currently self-published by Muehleisen Music, although two of his works can be obtained from Colla Voce (Snow. The King’s Trumpeter) and Alliance Music Publishing (Joy). In addition, he and composers Brian Galante, Karen P. Thomas, and Reginald Unterseher are at the forefront of the self-publishing movement and have formed Northwest Choral Publishers (www.nwchoral.com), a collective digital publishing venture that seeks to mutually promote their self-published choral works.
Bios for Programs: To obtain short- or medium-length bios for use in programs and elsewhere, please contact John directly at email@example.com