University of Michigan Launches New Black Composers Commissioning Initiative

The project, which will take place over the course of a decade, is the brainchild of Kenneth Kiesler, professor of conducting

Composer James Lee III (Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)


The School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) at the University of Michigan has launched its new Initiative for Black Composers, which will commission ten orchestral works over the coming decade. The project is aligned with the school's history of championing works by composers from historically underrepresented groups.

Three of the project's commissions have already been completed: "Tethered Voices" by U-M alumnus James Lee III, "Tales: A Folklore Symphony" by Carlos Simon (also an alumnus), and an as-yet untitled work by Nkeiru Okoye that is inspired by the writings of Maya Angelou. The first two works will receive their premieres in 2022, with Okoye's work due for its first airing in early 2023.

The initiative will also give the school's performance students the chance to amass a substantial amount of experience in preparing and premiering newly-commissioned music, an opportunity which is not always available to tertiary music students.

The project's leader, conducting professor Kenneth Kiesler, hopes that the initiative's impact will stretch well beyond the university, and help to create a culture in which programming the works of Black composers becomes second nature for musical institutions.

“The School of Music, Theatre & Dance is honored not only to celebrate the work of Black composers, but to play a role in making the repertoire of classical music more representative and inclusive,” said SMTD Dean David Gier.

“I’m especially excited that the Initiative for Black Composers will give SMTD students much-needed exposure to living composers, a critical component of any music program. This initiative is a part of SMTD’s broader commitment to elevate and promote BIPOC voices in the performing arts," he added.