The King's Singers (credit: Rebecca Reid)

The King’s Singers launch New Music Prize composition contest

Melinda Bargreen | 30 JUL 2020

It’s a choral composer’s dream: The chance to write a new work for The King’s Singers “New Music Prize,” to be performed in Washington National Cathedral and published by Walton Music.

Just hearing the name of the fabled British sextet is enough to excite decades of music lovers who have admired the King’s Singers, through their worldwide tours and their extensive discography (more than 150 recordings). There’s almost nothing they don’t sing, from early music through every era, up to contemporary pop songs and world premieres. The group’s long history of championing new works has led to the establishment of the King’s Singers’ “New Music Prize” – building excellent repertoire for the future.


The King’s Singers have evolved in membership, of course, since the six original choral scholars (students at King’s College, Cambridge University) gave their first concert in May of 1968. Over the years since then, the group has slowly replaced the original and successive members, but during 52 years, there have only been 28 King’s Singers; the singers’ tenure averages around 12 years, and some have continued a lot longer.
And what great singers! Fans will long remember the deep resonant bass of Stephen Connolly, the seraphic tenor of Bill Ives, and the warm baritone of Simon Carrington, among the many standouts.

Like all smart performers, the King’s Singers know that the great choral singing requires constantly evolving repertoire: their own membership over time has included some distinguished composers. That’s why they created the New Music Prize competition: as their official statement puts it, “Through this Prize, we hope to leave the world a musically richer place than we found it.”


  • Composers, who must be residents of the USA and Canada, are invited to compose a new choral piece setting one of five specific texts: Emily Dickinson’s “I Had No Time To Hate,” James Weldon Johnson’s “The Gift to Sing,” Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Invitation to Love,” Malcolm Guite’s “The Singing Bowl,” and a new text written for the competition, “When All Falls Silent,” by Charles Anthony Silvestri.
  • Entries open on Tuesday July 21, 2020 and close at 3 p.m. ET (noon PT), October 16, 2020. Submissions must be new, original works, composed in any musical genre. They cannot have been published, performed in public, or recorded for commercial or public use.
  • Works may be submitted in one of four categories:
    1. A composition for 4-part SATB Choir (composers under 18)
    2. A composition for 4-part SATB Choir (composers aged 18 and above)
    3. A composition for Children’s Choir
    4. A composition for The King’s Singers.

The winner in each category receives a cash prize of $1,500, and tickets to attend a celebratory concert in Washington National Cathedral (on February 28, 2021, “subject to prevailing conditions”). The winners also will receive a recording of the concert from Washington D.C. (which will be webcast), and the opportunity to have their piece published by Walton Music.


A distinguished panel of judges will decide on the competition winners: Elise Bradley (Artistic Director, Toronto Children’s Chorus), Gabriela Lena Frank (composer, pianist), Stacey V. Gibbs (composer, arranger), Jonathan Howard (The King’s Singers), David Hurley (educator, former King’s Singer), Michael McCarthy (director of music, Washington National Cathedral), Francisco Núñez (conductor, composer, director of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City), and Dr. Mack Wilberg (conductor, composer, music director of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square).

How to get started on your own entry? You might consider the array of instructive possibilities available for free to aspiring composers, including online workshops by an array of leading figures in music composition, conducting, poetry, and publishing. The free workshops run live on Saturdays through August, and will include practical advice on composing for voices, as well as a Q&A with the attendees.


All workshops will be held on The King’s Singers’ YouTube channel. Here’s the lineup:

  • Charles Anthony Silvestri: poet, lyricist, historian
    The Marriage of Words and Music
    Saturday, August 1st – 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET, with Jonathan Howard and Edward Button of The King’s Singers
  • Eric Whitacre: composer, conductor
    Writing for voices: Conversation, Question and Answers
    Saturday, August 8th – 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET
    With Christopher Bruerton and Patrick Dunachie of The King’s Singers
  • Bob Chilcott: composer, conductor, singer
    Thoughts on musical line, shape and structure
    Saturday, August 15th – 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET
    With Julian Gregory and Jonathan Howard of The King’s Singers
  • Valérie Sainte-Agathe: composer, conductor, singer
    Writing for Young Voices
    Saturday, August 22nd – 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET
    With Christopher Bruerton and Patrick Dunachie of The King’s Singers
  • Susan LaBarr, Alec Harris, Walton Music
    Demystifying Music Publishing and Copyright – All your Questions Answered!
    Saturday, August 29th – 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET
    With Nick Ashby and Edward Button of The King’s Singers

The King’s Singers New Music Prize is generously supported by Ronald C. Gunnell and The King’s Singers Global Foundation, and forms part of the Foundation’s vision for #FindingHarmony in our divided world. For more information, visit  ■

Melinda Bargreen is a Seattle-based composer and music journalist who has been writing for the Seattle Times and other publications for four decades. Her 2015 book, Classical Seattle is published by University of Washington Press. Her 50 Years of Seattle Opera was published by Marquand Books in 2014.