Who We Are
The American Composers Forum facilitates an ecosystem of creativity through music. Our goal is to make music creators, and their music, a vibrant and integral part of human culture.
Through commissions, grants, mentorships, performances, publications, residencies, and hosted gatherings, we provide innovative opportunities for composers and their music to flourish, and we link communities and composers through creation, connection, and engagement. ACF nurtures a musical landscape that reflects the diversity of our world, and we partner with a variety of creative musicians and organizations to develop generations of music creators, performers, and advocates. Since March 2019, ACF has been working to center racial equity in all of its activities, including a public Racial Equity and Inclusion Forum that featured musical creators and collaborators at the Twin Cities PBS station in September 2019. The organization is currently undergoing a comprehensive strategic plan and transformation over the 2019-20 season to respond to the feedback and recommendations artists have offered ACF in its endeavors to both model and advocate for greater racial equity for music makers.
By highlighting the individuals creating music through their unique stories and the impact of their art, ACF strives to demonstrate the relevance, vitality, and beauty of the musical experiences being designed and experienced across the country. Furthermore, we seek to shine light on those artists working on the fringe, the artists whose stories reimagine the word “composer,” and the transformations made possible through musical experiences. ACF is committed to being a welcoming and inclusive place for creative artists across racial and gender identities, musical languages, and communities.
ACF organized in 1973 as a group of students at the University of Minnesota, led by co-founders Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus, for the purpose of creating performance opportunities outside the academic setting. They incorporated in 1975 as the Minnesota Composers Forum and focused their early efforts on a series of concerts featuring the music of their members. In the early 1980s the organization expanded their services by launching the Jerome Composer Commissioning Program (1979), the McKnight Fellowships (1982) and innova® recordings (1983) – all of which continue today. One of the earliest public advocacy initiatives was the Composers Voice program with Minnesota Public Radio (1993), a series of 13 one-hour broadcasts featuring prominent national composers such as John Adams, Meredith Monk and Philip Glass among others.
In 1996 the Board of Directors adopted the current name of American Composers Forum (ACF) in recognition of its growing national reach. Eight chapters were established in major urban centers, and the 50-state commissioning program Continental Harmony was launched in 1998 as a millennium celebration in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. Among its more singular historical programming was the First Nations Composer Initiative from 2004-2010 to support the unique needs of Native American composers and performers.
BandQuest®, a series of music for middle school bands composed by prominent American composers, has reached an estimated 625,000 students since its inception in 1997. There are now twenty-two published works in the series ranging from Michael Colgrass, Libby Larsen, Michael Daugherty and klezmer revivalist, Hankus Netsky, to name a few. ChoralQuest® is the newest education program for middle school, with commissions from Stephen Paulus, Alice Parker, Jerod Tate, Jennifer Higdon, and Chen Yi among others. NextNotes®, the newest program, awards promising high school students with meaningful performance and mentorship opportunities.
Over the course of four decades, ACF has nurtured the work of thousands of composers. The innova recording label has released over 600 titles, and our BandQuest® and ChoralQuest® series for middle level students has reached over half million students. New programs like ACF CONNECT offer direct connections and commissions with leading national ensembles. The organization has a rich history of granting programs, readings, salons, conferences, and residencies that support the creation of new work and connect composers to communities. (See Historical Timeline below).
Today, ACF has over 1,000 members in all 50 states, including composers, performers, colleges, and universities. Members come from both urban and rural areas; they work in virtually every musical genre, including orchestral and chamber music, world music, opera and music theater, jazz and improvisational music, electronic and electro-acoustic music, and sound art.
Informal organization in basement of Scott Hall at the University of Minnesota and initial call for scores; By year’s end, MCF presents 11 concerts of new works by Forum composers on campus and elsewhere, including two programs at the Walker Art Center
Five MCF concerts presented, including two more at the Walker Art Center plus one at the New Riverside Café on Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis (which included a Country and Western song by Libby Larsen!);
Formal incorporation as the Minnesota Composers Forum; Austrian composer Ernst Krenek participates in Forum master class and concert
Sacred Forum of “Music for Church and Temple” held at St. Mark’s; MCF Chorale organized by Monte Mason; events with visiting composer Henry Brant; 13-part series of “New Music from Minnesota” broadcasts on Minnesota Public Radio featuring new works recorded live at MCF concerts
Schubert Club donates office space in St. Paul’s Landmark Center; Lance Strickland donates two typewriters for use at the MCF office
First concerts by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra featuring works by Forum composers; MCF Chorale performs on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” radio broadcast, sings a “Landmark Jingle” (providing directions to the Forum’s new offices there) written by Libby Larsen and Steve Barnett; MCF members meet with visiting composer Philip Glass and members of his ensemble; annual membership fee inaugurated and 78 charter members enroll
Jerome Composers Commissioning Program begins; Sarah Solotaroff is Managing Director; workshop with visiting composer Terry Riley
Lila Jacob becomes Managing Director, continues in that post for eight years
Dale Warland Singers performs members’ works at Landmark Center; The Ensemble Reading Fund begins; First Forum all-electronic concert
McKnight Composer Fellowship Program begins; Demo Tape Recording Project and tape dubbing service offered
First innova® Recordings produced; Forum moves to MarketHouse in Lowertown St. Paul, receives challenge grant from Bush Foundation
25% of MCF now live in Minnesota; Forum receives four-year Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts
Forum purchases its first office computer (a Compaq 286 Desk Pro); Performance Assistance Fund begins
Rockefeller Foundation awards Forum $40,000 for its Creative Future Fund; First Computer Music Notation Workshop held; “Year of the Ear” 7-event concert series at the Walker Art Center and Ordway Music Theater includes choral performances led by Dale Warland and Philip Brunnelle, visiting British composer/conductor Oliver Knussen, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra clarinetist Timothy Paradise, and composer/pianist Paul Schoenfield
Kronos Quartet reads members’ works at Walker ArtCenter; Members take part in 3M test of new Scotch Binding System tape for parts and scores; “Free Fall,” the first compact disc recording issued by MCF released, including works by Steve Tibbetts, Mike Olson, Henry Gwiazda, John Devine, and Pat Moriarty
Minnesota Composer – Librettist Studio with the Playwrights’ Center and Minnesota Opera New Music-Theatre Ensemble
Forum moves to Exchange Building in downtown St. Paul
Finale® software users group organized; first Forum “Long Range Plan” published
3M donates a case of audio tape cassettes for concert recordings and demo tapes; Linda Hoeschler named Forum’s Executive Director
Church/Synagogue Program begins (later renamed Faith Partners); Member discounts on computer hardware and software arranged
Composer’s Voice radio program airs on MPR; Recording Loan Fund established; Forum has 612 members in 40 states and 13 countries, establishes “outposts” in New York and Boston; Schubert Club and MCF produced 20th Anniversary Concert featuring the Cleveland Quartet performing new works by Forum co-founders Libby Larsen and Steven Paulus; Asian Cultural Council supports Forum scouting trip to Vietnam to establish relations with composers
Orchestral Reading Program, Performance Incentive Fund, and Sonic Circuits Festival begin; Forum moves to the First National Bank Building in St. Paul; McKnight Visiting Composer Residency begins
55% of Forum members live outside Minnesota; Composer’s Voice distributed nationally by NPR, wins ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award; Whitaker Fund “National Composer Service Initiative” challenge grant; Pilot “chapters” in Boston and New York launched; Late Night in Gallery 8 series at the Walker debuts
Name change to American Composers Forum; Perfect Pitch program with Minnesota Orchestra begins; Vietnamese Music Festival held in Twin Cities
San Francisco and Washington DC chapters organized; New Band Horizons project (later renamed BandQuest) launched; Second series of Composer’s Voice begins on MPR; Regional Rural Commissioning Program launched (as pilot for national Continental Harmony program)
Philadelphia chapter organized; Continental Harmony launched with NEA funding; Welcome Christmas! Carol Competition begins; innova’s “Enclosure Three: Harry Partch” wins 1998 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award; Forum administers the Philadelphia Orchestra Centennial Composition Contest
First round of Continental Harmony communities and composers selected, with White House Millennium Council as official partner; Philadelphia Orchestra’s Centennial Composition Competition offered in partnership with ACF; Composers Suitcase piloted in Minnesota
Forum celebrates its 25th anniversary of incorporation; LA chapter organized; Composers Datebook premieres, wins 2000 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award; Public Radio International distributes second Composers Voice series
“Bamboo Fest” at the Landmark Center in St. Paul and “Edible Music” event at the Minnesota State Fair; Composers Suitcase tested in LA schools; PBS airs Continental Harmony documentary; subito program launched in LA; ACF partners with Minnesota Public Radio to continue Composers Datebook radio feature
Forum awarded $1 million McKnight Endowment Grant for innova label; Minnesota Orchestra Composers Institute (formerly Perfect Pitch) begins; First three BandQuest compositions published; Second round of Continental Harmony projects selected; Essentially Choral reading sessions with VocalEssence launched; Forum administers Pacific Symphony’s American Composer Competition
Encore program relauched (formerly Performance Incentive Fund); Boston chapter renamed ACF New England; John Nuechterlein becomes Forum CEO
New ACF website launched; First Nations Composer Initiative (FNCI) begins; Composers Datebook daily eNewsletter starts; Forum established Endowment Fund to honor Dale Warland
Third round of Continental Harmony projects selected; ArtSong Competition launched with The Schubert Club; Washington-DC Chapter presents its fifth annual Sonic Circuits electronic music festival
ACF awarded 2006 Joyce Award for Music as part of its FNCI initiative; 5th annual Minnesota Orchestra Composers Institute held at Orchestral Hall in Minneapolis; ACF-New England Composer Residency Program begins in Massachusetts.
FNCI launches new Common Ground program for Native composers and musicians; subito grants awarded to composers in the Bay Area and Southern California; New York State Music Fund awards $200,000 grant to ACF’s innova label to issue CDs featuring New York artists’ works; ACF-Philadelphia marks their 10th anniversary with concerts at the Kimmel Center;
Innova recording of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” tops iTunes charts and is profiled on NPR’s Weekend Edition; ACF presents its first Dale Warland Singers Commission Award to composer Shawn Crouch and partner ensemble Chanticleer; ACF-Philadelphia organizes Composer-to-Composer session with Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki
innova Recordings signs distribution contract with Naxos of America, Inc.; innova Recordings releases 43 titles by New York artists and organizes 60 outreach events in New York state; Continental Harmony project comes to an end with “Fire and Light,” a work by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate premiered in Ada, Oklahoma
Finale National Composition Contest announced in partnership with MakeMusic, Inc, and the eigth blackbird ensemble; ChoralQuest launched; 10th anniversary Minnesota Orchestra Composers Institute culminates with public “Future Classics” public concert at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis
New Music Minnesota website launched; innova Recordings presents showcase of label artists at John Zorn’s venue, The Stone, in New York City; American Music Center mergers with Meet The Composer to form New Music USA; ACF launches new website
ACF newsletter relaunched as digital eNewsletter entitled “In the Key of Now”; ACF organizes ChoralConnections career workshop for composers held during the annual Chorus America convention in Minneapolis; innova Recordings at South by Southwest Festival in Texas; innova label awarded Laurel Leaf Award from American Composers Alliance
Game On! an Insider’s Guide to Video Game Scoring workshop presented in partnership with McNally Smith College and MPR; BandQuest celebrates publication of 20th piece; ACF Leads Composer Delegation to Cuba; ACF moves to new 5th floor offices at Landmark Center in St. Paul
“Champion of New Music” Awards given to Marin Alsop, Frances Richard, and Steven Schick; ACF-Philadelphia announces The ACF Philadelphia Chapter “If You Could Hear These Walls” concert series in partnership with the Mural Arts Program; NextNotes High School Composition Awards is launched