2018 Conference Headliners

Craig Hella Johnson

During the conference, Craig Hella Johnson will offer two headliner sessions. He will discuss his career and rehearsal process, give an inspirational talk entitled “What the world needs…”, and another called “My Journey with Matthew Shepard”, a retrospective on his powerful new work Considering Matthew Shepard.

Renowned as one of today’s most influential voices in choral conducting, Craig Hella Johnson brings unparalleled depth of knowledge, artistic sensitivity, and rich imagination to his programs. As Grammy®-winning founder and Artistic Director of Conspirare, Johnson assembles some of the finest singers in the country to form a world-class, award-winning ensemble committed to creating dynamic choral art. Beloved by audiences, lauded by critics and composers, and revered by singers, Johnson is known for crafting musical journeys that create deep connections between performers and listeners. The Wall Street Journal praised his ability to “find the emotional essence other performers often miss,” and Fanfare wrote that “Craig Hella Johnson has assembled and molded a first-rate choir to be respected as highly as the best we have had.” Distinguished composer John Corigliano wrote, “I believe that [Johnson] has understood my music in a way that I have never experienced before. He is a great musician who understands everything about the music he conducts.” Composer and collaborator Robert Kyr observed, “Craig’s attitude toward creating a community of artists who work together to interpret the score … goes beyond technical mastery into that emotional depth and spiritual life of the music.” Of Johnson’s performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, the San Antonio Express-News wrote: “Through all the amazing ebbs and flows of dynamics, the radiant balances, the seamless connection of episodes, the theatrically astute tempo relations, the unified structural arc, the music shone forth with organic naturalness. Nothing sounded fussed over. Everything just sounded right.” 


Johnson is also Music Director of the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble and conductor emeritus of the Victoria Bach Festival. He was Artistic Director of San Francisco-based Chanticleer (1998-1999) and has served as guest conductor with the Austin Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, and many others in Texas, the U.S., and abroad. As the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Texas at Austin from 1990-2001, Johnson led the graduate program in choral conducting. He remains an active educator, teaching nationally and internationally with professionals and students at conferences and universities. He is also a frequent speaker at regional and national conferences of the American Choral Directors Association. In Fall 2012, he became the first Artist in Residence at the Texas State University School of Music. 

A composer and arranger, Johnson works with G. Schirmer Publishing on the Craig Hella Johnson Choral Series, featuring specially selected composers as well as some of his original compositions and arrangements. His works are also published by Alliance Music Publications. A unique aspect of Johnson’s programming is his signature “collage” style: through-composed programs that marry music and poetry to blend sacred and secular, classical and contemporary, traditional and popular styles. In 2006 he was engaged to create a special peace-themed collage program for the North Central ACDA convention, and in 2007 by the famed St. Olaf Choir to create and conduct a collage program during a five-week residency. Craig’s first concert-length composition, Considering Matthew Shepard, was premiered in 2016 by Conspirare. 

Johnson has been honored with numerous awards, including 2008 induction into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame, Chorus America’s 2009 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal, and the 2011 Citation of Merit from professional music fraternity Mu Phi Epsilon, the organization’s highest honor for a non-member. In 2012 he was an invited speaker for TEDxAustin. He was one of seven panelists for the Fetzer Institute and Eranos Foundation’s “Love and the Musical Arts” gathering in Switzerland in 2011. In April 2013 Johnson was designated the official Texas State Musician for 2013 by the Texas Legislature. The designation was recommended by the Texas Commission on the Arts after a competitive nomination process, and he is only the second classical musician to receive the honor in its eleven-year history. Johnson was awarded the 2015 Best Choral Performance Grammy® for conducting Conspirare on the CD The Sacred Spirit of Russia (Harmonia Mundi label). In June 2015 Johnson received The Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art, Chorus America’s lifetime achievement award. 

A Minnesota native, Johnson studied at St. Olaf College, the Juilliard School, and the University of Illinois and earned his doctorate at Yale University. As the recipient of a National Arts Fellowship, Johnson studied with Helmuth Rilling at the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart, Germany. He has been a Texas resident since 1990.


Roomful of Teeth is a GRAMMY-winning vocal project dedicated to reimagining the expressive potential of the human voice. Through study with masters from vocal traditions the world over, the eight-voice ensemble continually expands its vocabulary of singing techniques and, through an ongoing commissioning process, forges a new repertoire without borders.

Founded in 2009 by Brad Wells, Roomful of Teeth gathers annually at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, Massachusetts, where they’ve studied with some of the world’s top performers and teachers in Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, Broadway belting, Inuit throat singing, Korean P’ansori, Georgian singing, Sardinian cantu a tenore, Hindustani music, Persian classical singing and Death Metal singing. Commissioned Composers include Rinde Eckert, Fred Hersch, Merrill Garbus (of tUnE-yArDs), William Brittelle, Toby Twining, Missy Mazzoli, Julia Wolfe, Ted Hearne and Ambrose Akinmusire, among many others.

Projects in 2016-2017 include The Colorado, a music-driven documentary film that explores water, land and survival in the Colorado River Basin (featuring former Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler and Wilco’s Glenn Kotche); collaborations with A Far Cry and Nick Zammuto of The Books; appearances at new music festivals in the US, Canada and Sweden; and partnerships with nearly two dozen higher education institutions across the country.


A Kipling Passion

To commemorate the centenary of World War I and in keeping with the conference theme (re)imagining the choral art, John Muehleisen’s oratorio But Who Shall Return Us Our Children: A Kipling Passion, is a significant reimagining of the Passion Oratorio. While it shares elements with the Baroque form—choruses, recitatives, arias, and chorales—it includes numerous innovations. For example, chorale settings from Bach’s Passions are overlaid with poems by WWI poets. Building on the Passion Oratorio tradition of using contemporary musical forms and texts, the work uses WWI-period military and funeral marches, hymns, and popular songs sung by soldiers in the trenches. Muehleisen’s oratorio is a parable of the love, loss, reconciliation, and hope that Rudyard Kipling and his family experienced in their two-year struggle to discover the fate of their son, Jack. The Kipling Passion takes the listener on an emotional journey, but its ultimate impact lies in the portrayal of the healing power of community, compassion, and remembrance.

John Muehleisen, composer
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).


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.



Choral Arts Northwest


Comprised of volunteer singers drawn exclusively from the Seattle region, Choral Arts Northwest has garnered national recognition and critical acclaim by combining a deep sense of community with a passion for artistic excellence.

Led by Artistic Director Robert Bode, CANW has won the Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence (2010); and the American Prize for choral performance (community division) twice, placing first in 2010 and second in 2013. The group has also been awarded coveted performing slots at the 2015 ACDA National Conference, the 2013 Chorus America National Conference, and the 2010 ACDA Regional Conference. In December of 2015, the ensemble also provided a command performance at the White House for guests of President and Mrs. Obama.

CANW is also deeply committed to new music and has commissioned over twenty new choral works by American composers and has seven commercially released recordings under the Gothic record label.

Robert Bode
Robert Bode has been Artistic Director for Choral Arts Northwest since 2007. He is on the faculty at the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, where he is the Raymond R. Neevel/Missouri Professor of Choral Music and Director of Choral Activities. Before his position at UMKC, Dr. Bode was the Alma Meisnest Endowed Chair in the Humanities and Fine Arts and Director of Choral/Vocal Studies at Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, where he conducted the 100-voice Chorale and the 30-voice Whitman Chamber Singers.


Bode received his doctorate in Choral Conducting from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Before attending the Cincinnati Conservatory, Bode won a conducting scholarship at the prestigious Aspen Music Festival, where he studied opera conducting with Fiora Contino.

In 1982, Bode studied in Wales as a Conducting Fellow at the University-College of Music in Cardiff. He made his Carnegie Hall conducting debut in 1990, conducting the Walla Walla Symphony Chorale in the New York Premiere of The Waking by John David Earnest.

His choirs have been featured in performances for the American Choral Directors Association Division Conventions in 1990, 1992, 1994, 2004, 2006, and 2010. In March of 1995, Bode conducted the Walla Walla Mastersingers in performances for the ACDA National Convention at Kennedy Center and Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.

In 2010 Bode and Choral Arts Northwest won the 2010 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence from Chorus America. In addition, CANW’s CD, “Mornings Like This,” won the American Prize for choral recorded music in 2010. In 2013, CANW’s CD “Shall We Gather at the River” placed second in the America Prize and Choral Arts Northwest was honored to perform at the Chorus America National Conference in Seattle. In 2014, CANW won third place in The American Prize for their recording “Life Stories: The Choral Music of Eric William Barnum”, and Bode placed second in the American Prize for Choral Conducting. In February 2015 Bode and Choral Arts Northwest performed at the ACDA National Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah and the following December provided a private holiday performance at the White House for guests of President and First Lady Obama.

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