The American Composers Forum (ACF), in partnership with MakeMusic®, is proud to acknowledge the influential teachers of the 2020 NextNotes® High School Composition Awards winners. NextNotes is a national program designed to nurture the next generation of creative voices in music inclusive of all styles. The talented young artists convene as a cohort and receive mentorship, scholarship funds, and recognition through a national awards ceremony. The following winners were selected for skill, originality, potential, and strong creative voices: KiMani Bridges (Louisville, KY), Helen Feng (Deerfield, MA), Gene Angelo Nucal (Mesquite, TX), Rohan Srinivasan (Portland, OR), Jasper Talwani (Los Angeles, CA), and Charlotte Weinstein (Brooklyn, NY). Visit this link to learn more about each winner. Each of these creators have teachers in their lives—educators who help them craft their voices and grow as young artists and citizens. The following teachers were thoughtfully selected for their dedication to the NextNotes winners:

  • Kevin James (Education Director, American Composers Orchestra), teacher of Charlotte Weinstein
  • Jasmine Barnes (Head of Music Composition Studies and Jazz Singers, Booker T. Washington HSPVA), teacher of Gene Angelo Nucal
  • Thomas Bergeron (Director of Chamber Music and Orchestra, Deerfield Academy), teacher of Helen Feng
  • Lee Secard (Chair of Colburn Jazz Workshop), teacher of Jasper Talwani
  • Matilda Ertz (Piano Instructor, YPAS and U of L School of Music), teacher of KiMani Bridges
  • Ryan Francis (Composer), teacher of Rohan Srinivasan

The 2020 NextNotes winners speak on the impact of their teachers:

“Ms. Barnes has been such a big inspiration for me as a musician and composer. She’s mentored and encouraged me to embrace my writing, no matter how simple or even outlandish it may seem. She’s helped me refine my composition style and has been a constant fountain of support for me, not only in the music world but also in the real world. She’s constantly looking for ways and opportunities that can help me succeed and grow and connecting me with other composers and professional musicians to prepare me for my future in music. Most importantly, she’s taught me that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from, how old you are, the color of your skin, what you believe, what you identify as, or even what others say about you: “You can be whatever you want to be with hard work, perseverance, and a serious music playlist.” Apart from being my teacher, she’s also been a great friend. Not only does she connect with people through her music but also through her inclusive and bubbly personality. I love being your student and friend Ms. Barnes; I can’t wait to see what the future holds for both of us!” -Gene Angelo Nucal

 “Since I began my studies at Deerfield Academy three years ago, Mr. Bergeron has been incredibly supportive of my growth as a musician, scholar, and person. Not only did I learn a lot from his AP Music Theory and Advanced Composition and Analysis courses, I also enjoy having riveting conversations with him outside of the classroom. During after school co-curricular time, for instance, he would often introduce to me artists and concepts I have not previously heard of, broadening my horizons and encouraging me to become an open-minded musician who swims across boundaries with curiosity, empathy, and respect. Whenever I encounter challenges in generating or developing ideas, he would encourage me to trust my ideas and to see art-making through a process-oriented lens. A wonderful trumpeter and conductor himself, he has given me lots of tips regarding brass composition, orchestral writing, and repertoire to listen to. I am beyond grateful for all the inspiration and kindness he has extended to me. Thank you, Mr. Bergeron!” -Helen Feng

“Lee Secard has fostered and mentored me over the course of my four years studying with him. The environment he created at the Colburn Jazz Workshop inspired me to arrange jazz and start composing again after a multi-year hiatus. He has provided a space to polish my work, rehearse it, and perform it, and he has done so for countless talented peers at Colburn. Without him, I would not be the musician I am today.” -Jasper Talwani

“Dr. Ryan Francis has been an extremely positive influence on my music since I was a freshman. I was not actively looking for lessons then, and if he hadn’t offered to teach me I probably wouldn’t be thinking of composition as a career rather than a hobby. I appreciate that Ryan doesn’t try to force me in any stylistic direction; instead, he calls my attention to underdeveloped aspects of my music that are important to consider no matter the style. These include harmonic (in)consistency, utilizing each instrument’s unique timbre, and general orchestration tips. He is always open to having interesting conversations, even if it’s about something that seems only vaguely related to music at first. I could write more, but I’ll sum it up with one word: thanks!”
-Rohan Srinivasan

“Dr. Ertz and the graduate students at the University of Louisville: Joshua Baerwald, Derek Carter, Johannes Visser, and Issac Barzso have helped me see my potential as a composer and supported me on my journey. I will always be grateful for the experiences and opportunities they have brought to me. Thank you all!!!!” -KiMani Bridges

“Kevin James is such an amazing instructor. He is one of the most generous teachers I’ve ever had, both with his time and advice. He always tries to push me further with my ideas and my inspiration, and I feel that he cares a lot about everyone he teaches as both composers and human beings. He has brought me from knowing almost nothing to knowing what I don’t know. Considering how little experience I had when I first entered his composition program, I really appreciated that he was never patronizing, and that no question was too dumb for him.”
-Charlotte Weinstein


ACF and MakeMusic will honor all of these significant educators by awarding them a subscription to SmartMusic®, an interactive music software program for use in their classrooms. SmartMusic provides guided practice, assessment and documentation, and an extensive repertoire library to bolster student learning. The 2020 NextNotes winners will also receive Finale® notation software as a part of their larger award package.

Throughout May and June, the NextNotes creators will participate in a robust series of virtual conversations, workshops, and lessons with mentors Marcos Balter, Mary Ellen Childs, and Joseph Horton. Balter, Childs, and Horton provide a breadth and depth of expertise in many areas of music creation, and will bring the cohort together to explore topics ranging from concept and how to find your music’s purpose, realizing your work with performers, production and presentation, life as a creator, giving and receiving feedback, to speaking about your music. The NextNotes experience will culminate in a live-streamed awards ceremony emceed by public radio and podcast creator of Trilloquy Garrett McQueen. The ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 27, 2020 at 7:30pm CST, and is free and accessible to all.

ACF and MakeMusic are thankful to these exceptional educators and look forward to helping more of their students thrive due to their dedication and inspiration.

For more information, please visit,, Facebook, Twitter, or email Laura Krider, Director of Education and Community Partnerships, at