Pasadena Master Chorale Listens to the Future


The Pasadena Master Chorale (PMC) recently selected their new student composers for the second year of their innovative Listening to the Future project. Representing a cross section of area high schools, these juniors and seniors include (L. to R.) Elise Logan, Pasadena High, Sean Segal and Olivia Shue, La Canada High, and Tiffany Shi, San Marino (not pictured are Katherine Beggs, Westridge Scghool and Evan Kim, Polytechnic.) Along with the students, pictured far right, is the 2017 composer/mentor Nilo Alcala. Alcala is a Los Angeles-based Filipino composer whose works have been performed in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas.

Artzray recently spoke with PMC Artistic Director and Founder Jeffrey Bernstein about the project.


What was the genesis for the Listening to the Future project and why did PMC go down this road?

“Pasadena Master Chorale has always enjoyed performing new music. A couple of years ago we got two local composers to each write a piece for us.  And from that Reena Esmail became a composer in residence and created a full length piece for us. That was a thrilling experience to be part of something brand new and relevant, actually from our time, from our community, from the voice of a woman of color living in Los Angeles.

That experience put me in mind of my own path as a composer. That young people don’t get opportunities like that. To hear their music, to get that feedback, they don’t get to hear their work performed. For composers to get that connection with performers and audiences is rare, otherwise you are alone at a desk all day.

So I started thinking about what would it be like if we had student composers work with us, and in talking with our composer in residence we came up with this idea. We would identify students who love choral music and have an interest in learning what it is like to compose choral music. They would work with a mentor so they could create pieces that fulfill their expressive impulse. We loved the idea that we could bring this incredibly exciting experience to a young 16 or 17 year old. What would that be like to hear the music with a big choir performing their work?”

What is the process? What support do you give the students?

“Over the course of a year they come every week and work one-on-one in a small group with their mentor and then have their work performed by the Pasadena Master Chorale. We’ve developed a curriculum for it that starts with looking at melody and folk song and the first piece they do is a folk song arrangement and then after that they pick a text and they create an original piece.

During the year as they continue refining their work, they come into full PMC rehearsals with the “ink wet” and try out sections with the singers so they can hear what it sounds like. Do they like this or that or do they not like it? What would that be like if we tried a major chord here? Let’s try it. Every bar of music they write gets sung and then we have two full weeks of rehearsal and then the final performance.


That concert last year was just beautiful and the singers were moved to tears to be performing this music written by teenagers. The kids were over the top and each of them prepared a statement about their experience, thanking the mentors, thanking the singers, sharing the impact of hearing their music performed.

Afterwards I told PMC that that was my proudest moment on stage with them. Doing that.  It’s listening to the future, it’s also investing in the future and I jokingly – but seriously – refer to this project as our advance recruitment process. We want to be involved with young people”

“Because who knows, one of them might be a household name in ten years!”


Elise Logan one of the young composers commented “I’m just really looking forward to composing things. Last year I took the AP Music Theory Test and I had a really good time composing with my teachers and my class and that’s where I met Avery – a student from last year – and he introduced me to this, so I’m really excited about it. I’ve been in choirs a lot of my life, and I really enjoyed singing with other people so I want to write something for people like that too. And I want to get back into composing in piano.” And she will have her chance with Listening to the Future.

Join the Pasadena Master Chorale for their up-coming holiday performance.

Reserve your tickets for the HANDEL MESSIAH
DEC 11  – 7:00PM
464 E Walnut St
Pasadena, CA 91101

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