National Choral Composition Competition

by Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand Trust

Compose Aotearoa! is a national initiative to stimulate the creation of new and diverse New Zealand music for choirs. Designed as an annual competition facilitated by the national body managing our four national choirs, Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand Trust, Compose Aotearoa! will be a rewarding pathway for young as well as established composers to produce new work. This is the fourth competition.

For over four decades our national choirs have benefitted from and contributed to the creation of new New Zealand choral works. With this competition we aim to encourage the development of choral writing in New Zealand and provide a high quality performance opportunity for these works. We invite submissions for choral works suitable for performance by any one of the three choirs.

NEW: this year at least 6 of the entries will be workshopped by Voices NZ singers in Wellington on 5 November in Wellington. This will be a great chance for the composers to hear their work workshopped and sung by our premier national choir. 

Click here to see the winners:

2022 winners

Past winners:
2021
2020

Competition regulations

2023 deadline: 4 October 11pm
  • The work should be for a choir of up to 60 voices, must have a minimum divisi of four parts (SATB) and maximum eight parts (SSAATTBB). We welcome solo roles, although compositions should be primarily choral in focus, and text in any language.
  • The work may be a cappella OR accompanied by up to three instruments, eg a piano and two trumpets; a violin, and viola and a cello.
  • The work should be approx. 3 – 8 minutes in duration
  • Submitted works should not have been published or publically performed. No arrangements of existing works will be considered.
  • Composers may submit ONE WORK PER YEAR to the competition. Works can be submitted to ONE of the following three categories.
  1. Open category – prize $2,000
  2. Composers aged 25 years and under – prize $2,000
  3. Waiata with substantial Te Reo Māori content (70%-100%) – prize $2,000

    An additional prize valued at $1,000
    will be awarded to a category winner in form of travel, per diems and other costs associated with the invitation to join one of the national choirs as Composer in Residence to progress the work for performance.

    Category winners will become SOUNZ Composers. A SOUNZ composer has a profile page on www.sounz.org.nz  which lists their works, commissions, performances, films/audio, etc. and provides worldwide visibility.
  • The competition is open to NZ citizens and NZ residents only.
  • The competition will be judged by the national choirs’ music directors and one external judge. The decision of the judges is final and not contestable.
  • Composers must have obtained copyright for any text used in the work. If the composer has
    written the text, please note this clearly on your submission (ie Text by composer).
  • Copyright on the music is retained by the composer.
  • The winners of the competition shall grant Choirs NZ the right to premiere the winning piece within 12 months of announcement of the winners, and record the piece (audio or video) within one year of that premiere performance. Choirs NZ will have the non-exclusive rights to perform the piece in perpetuity. All winning works should be marked with “One of the winning entries of the Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand Compose Aotearoa! Competition 2023″ on the music score cover or in the concert programme, whenever possible.
  • Previous category winners are not eligible to enter the same category the year after winning. Composer in Residence winners will not be considered for this role for a further three years. 
  • Works must be submitted as PDFs and MP3’s. The score should be laid out using conventional choral formatting and ready for duplication. Care should be taken with word underlay. Composers grant the choir permission to make further copies for performance at no additional fee. The composer’s name should NOT appear anywhere on the submitted score. An MP3 audio file of a computer realisation also needs to be submitted.
  • Choirs NZ reserves the right to award no prizes in one or more categories if scores do not reach satisfactory standard.
  • Choirs NZ reserves the right to change competition rules without notice.

Deadline for submission will be 11pm on 4 October 2023.

For any enquiries please contact Lee Martelli-Wood, lee@choirsnz.co.nz

We gratefully acknowledge the Patrons of  Compose Aotearoa! Trevor and Carol Kempton.

Composing for Choir – past competition judge’s feedback

  • Singers need to breathe so “compose in” the breathing. It guides the singers as to the shape of phrases and it also saves valuable rehearsal time, avoiding the conductor having to specify which notes might be shortened to allow for a breath.  
  • Label all staves throughout with your voice parts e.g. Soprano, and note whether voices parts are 1 or 2. If you are combining more than one part on a staff make sure the lower part always has note stems down, etc.  
  • Flow – always be sure the music is moving forward even if the piece makes a feature of slowly evolving harmonies. Some pieces have “stop-start” patterns where the music doesn’t flow forward over meaningful stretches – this can be not that satisfying for the listener. Static harmonies – there is a difference between subtle harmonic changes and music which is stuck in one place!  
  • If you are using a poem as your text, aim to use an entire poem and not just a portion – a poem is a complete work of art in itself, and composers don’t have a right to edit what the poet intended. Credit the text writer. Where the composer wrote the text, this could simply state “Text by the composer”.  
  • Text underlay – make it obvious where syllables fall. Most notation programmes do this well. Make sure you are not placing weak syllables on strong beats, unless this is a conscious decision! Sing through your score’s parts to ensure the lines sit well in terms of the beats in the bar.  
  • Dissonance can be challenging for choirs. Singers must find their pitches. Use dissonance wisely and think about where notes can be found by singers if the music is highly chromatic.  
  • Chord spacing needs care and the best guide is to study other choral works. Low thickly packed chords don’t work well, and the music can sound muddy. When upper voices are high it is best to have other voices also high in their range. Low voices cannot produce strong volume and some widely space chords would be hard to balance as basses at the bottom of the range are not going to contribute much to a loud chord. Avoid gaps in the middle of textures and as a rule have no more than an octave between parts.  
  • Aim for some variety of texture in your choral writing. An instrumental piece generally wouldn’t use all the instruments all the time, so plan for some varied groupings of voices within your score. Unless you’re writing for solo voices, even an SATB score could include some divisi occasionally.  
  • Aim to find a good balance between consistent textures and overly repetitive music. 
  • Chromatic writing is challenging for voices. It can pose serious pitching issues for most choirs. If the score has a highly chromatic palette, include some moments of ‘repose’ where there is a clearer tonal centre, or a rallying point. Make sure the music is moving forward harmonically, and that you don’t just rely on rhythm alone to give the music energy and direction.  
  • If you’re using a piano for accompaniment, have a look at a range of scores to see what an effective accompaniment looks like. Remember that it’s not a piano solo, and need not be as interesting as a solo piano piece! However, the pianist will also likely want to have a satisfying part to play.