The custom of singing Christmas carols brings joy to the holiday season unlike any other tradition.  And every December VocalEssence and the American Composers Forum celebrate this tradition in their own unique way: championing today’s composers, exploring new works, and rediscovering lesser-known works of the past. This year marks the 22nd year of the Welcome Christmas Carol Contest as VocalEssence and the American Composers Forum provide composers with the opportunity to compose a modern-day carol.

Open to composers of all ages, this year’s contest requires writing a carol for SATB chorus and violin. Each year, the contest has produced wonderful new settings of familiar texts and carols based on existing poems and original texts, each year with a different instrument.

2019 Participants

Travis Ramsey
Travis Ramsey Photo by Gisela Ramsey
Paul John Rudoi
Paul John Rudoi



The two winners will each receive a prize of $1,000. The winning carols will be premiered at the December 7, 8, 13 and 15, 2019 Welcome Christmas concerts featuring the VocalEssence Chorus & Ensemble Singers.  The performances will be recorded for national broadcast in 2020 via American Public Media.  The winners are invited to attend the rehearsals and performances at their own expense, and will have the opportunity for radio interviews as well as other media coverage and promotion.


Under the artistic direction of founder Philip Brunelle, VocalEssence is a champion of choral music: performing past and present repertoire for voices, commissioning new works from today’s composers, and celebrating the human experience through concerts and community engagement.  VocalEssence has been recognized by ASCAP with five awards for its adventurous programming of contemporary music and has been honored with the Margaret Hillis Achievement Award for Choral Excellence.  VocalEssence is comprised of several ensembles: the fully professional 32 voice VocalEssence Ensemble Singers, the 125 voice VocalEssence Chorus, and the VocalEssence Singers Of This Age, an innovative youth choir for singers throughout the Twin Cities.

2019 Contest Guidelines

  • World premiere: No prior performance of submitted work.
  • Original carol: No arrangements or new settings of existing tunes.
  • Eligibility: Composers of all ages whose permanent residence is North America.
  • Form: Carol (defined as a strophic song, which may or may not have refrains, that is associated with Christmas).
  • Voicing: SATB chorus with violin (no additional accompanying instruments allowed).
  • Duration: 3-4 minutes. Compositions longer than 4 minutes in length will not be reviewed.
  • Text: Sacred or secular, medieval to present, appropriate for concert setting; Christmas or seasonal winter themes accepted. Proof of public domain or author’s written permission for use of text is required.

Who May Apply

  • Composers of all ages; experience writing for voice and/or choirs is beneficial.
  • Applicants do not need to be members of ACF to apply.

Submission Requirements

  • Signed and completed application form
  • One full score including duration
  • One copy of the violin part
  • A biography not to exceed one page
  • Program notes not to exceed one page (optional)
  • Document giving permission or status for use of text
  • Optional: If you would like your materials returned, please enclose a check (payable to American Composers Forum) in the amount of $5.00 to cover return postage. Please do not include stamps or SASEs.


Postmarked on or before Saturday, June 15, 2019. Submissions sent by fax or email will not be accepted.

Selection Process

Applications and scores will be screened for completeness by ACF staff.  Final selection and programming decisions will be made by VocalEssence Artistic Director Philip Brunelle and Associate Conductor G. Phillip Shoultz, III.  Note: American Composers Forum and VocalEssence reserve the right not to make an award.


Composers will be notified by late July 2019.

2017 Participants

Nancy Gifford
Nancy Gifford
David Evan Thomas
David Evan Thomas
  • 2016: Caols with vibraphone accompaniment: Lee Blaske (Excelsior, MN) , Sean Sweeden (Kansas City, MO)
  • 2015: Carols with trumpet accompaniment: Josh Bauder (Crystal, MN), Laura Caviani (Minneapolis, MN)
  • 2014: Carols with fiddle in the Nordic tradition: Justin Merritt (Northfield, MN), Rachel DeVore Fogarty (Long Island City, NY)
  • 2013: Carols with piano accompaniment: Dale Trumbore (Los Angeles, CA), William V. Malpede (West Hollywood, CA)
  • 2012: Carols with flute accompaniment: David Biedenbender (Ann Arbor, MI), Sheena Phillips (Trenton, NJ)
  • 2011: Carols with English horn accompaniment: James Kallembach (Chicago, IL), Robert Sieving (Minnetonka, MN)
  • 2010: Carols with handbell accompaniment: J. David Moore (St. Paul, MN), Mark Shepperd (Woodbury, MN)
  • 2009: Carols with viola accompaniment: Michael J. Glasgow (Raleigh, NC), Robert Sieving (Minnetonka, MN)
  • 2008: Carols with French horn accompaniment: Scott Ethier (Astoria, NY), Peter Hilliard (Roslyn, PA)
  • 2007: Carols with celesta accompaniment: Matthew Brown (Los Angeles, CA), Stephen Main (San Francisco, CA)
  • 2006: Carols with solo acoustic guitar: Diego Luzuriaga (Ardmore, Pa.), John Rommereim (Grinnell, Iowa)
  • 2005: Carols with solo cello: Paul Gibson (Downey, Calif.), Jocelyn Hagen (Minneapolis, Minn.)
  • 2004: Carols with solo recorder: Keith Bradshaw (Lexington, Va.), James Sclater (Clinton, Miss.)
  • 2003: Carols with solo instrumental accompaniment: Thomas Fielding (Bloomington, Ind.), Alan Higbee (Beechwood, Ohio) Read and listen to the National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday coverage of the 2003 Carol Contest.
  • 2002: Carols with percussion accompaniment: Mary Lynn Place Badarak, Paul Lohman
  • 2001: Carols with string orchestra accompaniment: Clive Muncaster, Sergey Khvoshchinsky
  • 2000: Carols with harp accompaniment: Brian Holmes, Emily Maxson Porter
  • 1999: Carols with audience participation: Robert A.M. Ross, Jonathan Santore
  • 1998: Carols for a cappella chorus: Joan Griffith, Richard Voorhaar