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Nine Projects Selected for innova Recordings’ Second National Call

Today American Composers Forum (ACF) announces the second collection of recording projects selected through a panel process for its in-house record label, innova Recordings. Launched earlier in the season, innova’s new business model is aimed at making the process of visioning, producing, and releasing recordings more inclusive and accessible to artists. Multi-year lead support from the Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization enables the artists who identify as women to be supported on the label and provides additional funding to facilitate work with recording venues and producers from underrepresented genders.

The lead artists for the projects are: Cecilia SmithDawn AveryGoldfeatherGoussy CélestinHaiqiong DengJessie Cox, Joshua Henderson, Kinan Abou-afach, and a group consisting of Nathan HansonDavu Seru, and deVon Russell Gray (more details on each below).

Applicants were invited to submit recording projects at any stage, and were offered the opportunity to seek guidance on the application process and their project. Peer panelists selected the nine projects from a pool of 200 applications, reviewing the impact of this opportunity for them, the strength of the project plan and music (and ability for innova to successfully support it), and the diversity of the full cohort. Based on their self-identified gender and race, if offered, the cohort is made up of 50% individuals identifying as women and 75% as Black, Indigenous, Person of Color (BIPOC). The panel of curators was Joy Guidry, Amadeus Regucera, Sara Constant, and Shruthi Rajasekar.


  • There is no fee to apply or be on the label.
  • Artists receive distribution, licensing, promotion, and maintain ownership of their music plus 100% of sales profits.
  • Artists receive support from innova for both the production and promotion of their music at no cost at every step of the process.
  • Artists are on-boarded as a cohort with facilitated guidance from innova and connection to ACF’s large artist community.
  • ACF/innova provides introductions and referrals to a broad affiliate network interested in supporting diverse artists, including mixing/mastering, design, videographers, public relations and marketing, recording studio time, and physical manufacturing.
  • Naxos distributes recordings and works with multiple streaming platforms and media partners to ensure visibility.



Cecilia Smith--Photo by Gulnara Niaz

Cecilia Smith–Photo by Gulnara Niaz


This project is supported by the Sorel Organization.

In 2000, a NYC church jazz presenter asked composer and vibraphonist Cecilia Smith to perform a concert totally devoted to the compositional work of Mary Lou Williams. Cecilia’s earlier studies had not identified Ms. Williams as a composer but merely a jazz pianist. Her preparation for this project led her to the Mary Lou Williams Archives, housed at Rutgers University Jazz Institute, where she uncovered a plethora of compositional information.

The breadth and complexity of Ms. Williams’ composition work was awe-inspiring. Her library comprised of more than 350 works for big band, small ensemble and chorus and was on par with recognized jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. Yet this great artist, for the most part, had not been recognized by jazz historians. Since that concert, Cecilia Smith has continued researching Mary Lou Williams and performing her work, resulting in the Mary Lou Williams Resurgence Project (MLWRP), Ms. Smith’s tribute to this phenomenal musician.


Cecilia Smith is one of the leading vibraphonists of four-mallet technique and performs nationally and abroad. Cecilia is also an avid composer, arranger and multimedia artist. Cecilia’s new recording will feature the small ensemble works from the MARY LOU WILLIAMS RESURGENCE PROJECT, for which Cecilia is the Artistic Director.


Dawn Avery--Photo by Debbie Martin

Dawn Avery–Photo by Debbie Martin


This project is supported by the Sorel Organization.

The North American Indian Cello Project features recordings of works composed by Native North American contemporary classical composers: Tim Archambault (Kichespirini), Louis Ballard (Quapaw), Juantio Becenti and recent Pulitzer Prize winner, Raven Chacon (Navajo Diné), Brent Michael Davids (Mohican), R.C. Nakai (Navajo Ute), Ron Warren (Echota Tsalagi) and are scored for cello, voice and Indigenous rattles performed by Dawn Avery. They were commissioned by Avery thanks to a grant from the First Nations Composers Initiative supported through the Ford Foundation’s Indigenous Knowledge, Expressive Culture grant program of the American Composers Forum.


GRAMMY-nominated world musician Dawn Avery has worked with such musical luminaries as Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, Phillip Glass, John Cage, John Cale, David Darling, Sussan Deyhim, Glen Velez, and R. Carlos Nakai. As a composer, she has created works for chamber music, theatre, film and her own multi-media projects that reflect her Mohawk heritage and experience with sacred world traditions. Dr. Dawn Avery holds a PhD in Ethnomusicology with primary research in Native Classical Contemporary Composition and the application of Indigenous research techniques.


Goldfeather--Photo by Shervin Lainez

Goldfeather–Photo by Shervin Lainez


This project is supported by the Sorel Organization.

Change is an album that tells the story of volatile emotions, loss, and growth within an unraveling relationship. It boomerangs from feelings ranging from insecurity, helplessness, despair, anxiety, rage, remorse, and at the end, the painfully ecstatic joy of a protagonist who has faced her demons and rooted herself in resilience. Each song has a catchy melody that is underscored by unusual vocal and electronic effects and unpredictable key and time signature changes. The overall mood of the album ricochets between harsh, in-your-face electronics to beautifully rich orchestration.


Goldfeather is an experimental pop band based out of New York City. The whimsical brainchild of Sarah Goldfeather (she/her) and Mike Tierney (he/him), Goldfeather’s music has been described as “a nightmare funhouse-mirror take on Carly Rae Jepson-style upbeat pop” (National Sawdust Log). Sarah is a violinist who has performed around the world and was the 2019-2020 violin chair for the Tony-winning and Grammy-nominated Broadway production of Oklahoma!, a composer of chamber and solo works, and the artistic director of the ensemble Exceptet; Mike is a three time Grammy-nominated audio engineer and producer based in Brooklyn who has worked with a range of artists across genres, including Medeski, Martin & Wood; Stephen Stills; Julia Wolfe; Pharaoh Sanders; Judy Collins; and Alarm Will Sound.


Goussy Célestin--Photo by David Flores

Goussy Célestin–Photo by David Flores


This project is supported by the Sorel Organization.

Haitian-American Jazz artist, Goussy Célestin’s creativity is expressed through piano, voice, percussive movement, improvisation, and dance; informed by the sacred music traditions of Haiti,New Orleans Second Line tradition, Haitian Rara, call-and-response, Field Hollers, and the power of the circle. “I’m intrigued and fascinated by the healing and connecting power of music, specifically with how the union of sound and infused intention can evoke spiritual elevation.” As a composer-pianist-vocalist-dancer, Goussy’s personal mission is to incorporate Jazz with these other musical and somatic influences, moving people into an uplifted experience of our deeper connections as humans. Her recording project is still in its early stages of development.


Haiqiong Deng--Photo by Jonathan Allain

Haiqiong Deng–Photo by Jonathan Allain


This project is supported by the Sorel Organization.

Dr. Haiqiong Deng and Dr. Chihchun Chi-sun Lee are two Asian-American pioneers devoted to contemporary music featuring traditional Chinese musical instruments. This recording project documents a selection of compositions by Dr. Lee for the 21-string zheng that have been premiered by master zheng player Dr. Deng in the United States over the last two decades. This album provides a unique representation of East meets West and will serve as an important role model for the significant development of technique and modern repertoire for the Chinese zither. This album will also bring to focus the historical impact of the confluence of Chinese traditional zheng and contemporary classical music. The project aims to inspire greater understanding and collaboration between future generations of performers of Chinese instruments and contemporary composers, bridging musical cultures while highlighting the benefits of these collaborations.


Haiqiong Deng is a world-renown zheng virtuoso who advocates traditional and new music in North America. Her work explores new expressions through collaborations with musicians from diverse traditions, including her decade-long study of Indian Classical music with master Nalini Vinayak. Her current research project focuses on music and wellbeing through integrating the ancient 7-string guqin practice into cultivating mindfulness, enriching cultural understanding, and facilitating human wellbeing.

Taiwanese-American composer, Chihchun Chi-Sun Lee’s works were described as “eye-openingly, befittingly, complex, but rather arresting to hear” (Boston Globe), “exploring a variety of offbeat textures and unusual techniques” (Gramophone) and “eastern techniques blended with sophisticated modern writing style” (Amadeus). She received Guggenheim Fellowship and won the 1st Brandenburg Symphony International Competition, IAWM’s Theodore Front Prize and ISCM/ League of Composers Competition. Her commissions are from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Harvard Fromm Foundation, Barlow Endowment, Taiwan National Culture and Arts Foundation, National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, Taiwan Philharmonic, National Orchestra of Korea, and Taiwan National Chinese Orchestra, etc. Her music has been performed at Carnegie Hall, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers, and various international festivals and broadcasts worldwide.


Jessie Cox--Photo by Adrien H. Tillmann

Jessie Cox–Photo by Adrien H. Tillmann


Written for Jessie Cox’s self-developed “Cyborg-Clarinet” (played by Yuma Uesaka) and centred around Nana Nkweti’s story “Fight Like a Girl” — an intergalactic bildungsroman about Blue Jupiter, an alien teen from a galaxy far, far away; now growing up in the blighted, urban landscape of Brownsville, Brooklyn — Cyborg-Stories explores the boundaries between instrument and electronics, between voice, body, and environment, and combines Afro-latin techno/house (by Isaac “Matük” Matus) with experimental clarinet writing and Afro-diasporic narrative forms. Steeped in the traditions of Afrofuturism the work is a critical reflection of our time through an imagined future. This allows us to both problematize issues of the present while at the same time shed light onto that which is worth preserving and already here. Technology is engaged so as to highlight relationalities hidden behind assumptions of what can be, and music brings forth that which was hidden as possibilities of a better world.


One of the world’s most brazenly experimental composers, Swiss artist Jessie Cox makes music about the universe – and our future in it. Through avante-garde classical, experimental jazz, and sound art, he has devised his own strand of musical science fiction, one that asks where we go next. Cox’s music goes forward. When he describes it, he compares it to time travel and space exploration, likening the role of a composer to that of a rocket ship traversing undiscovered galaxies. Known for its disquieting tone and unexpected structural changes, his music steps into the unknown, and has been referred to by the New York as a nebulous and ever-expanding sound world that includes “breathy instrumental noises, mournfully wailing glissandi, and climactic stampedes of frantic figuration.”


Joshua Henderson--Photo by Kristofer Bergman

Joshua Henderson–Photo by Kristofer Bergman


One More Night is the first solo recorded compositional effort from Josh Henderson, NYC-based composer and (mostly) violinist. It is a 70-minute work for string quartet, saxophone, electric guitar, drum set, vocalist and solo violin (doubling viola and electric bass/synths) produced as part of a year long Artist-residency in Iowa and inspired by “The Day the Music Died,” a seminal piece of Iowa (and World) history that grapples with topics from death to dancing, uncertainty, and accepting this crazy ride we are all on.


NYC-based violinist, violist, electric bassist and composer Josh Henderson leads a multi-faceted career that ranges from solo performances with orchestras to playing electric violin in rock bands. A player in the groups Contemporaneous and Warp Trio among others, he regularly performs all over the globe and loves playing music of all styles. He can be found online at


Kinan Abou-afach--Photo by Yasmin Abou-afach

Kinan Abou-afach–Photo by Yasmin Abou-afach


With images of destruction dominating knowledge of contemporary Syria, Roads to Damascus tells stories about the Damascus that was. The project is comprised of seven movements moving chronologically through the history of Damascus, a play on the seven layers of history that passed by, and the seven gates/roads of the ancient city of Damascus, using one of the seven musical notes to start each movement. The first piece, bidayat (“beginnings” in Arabic) imagines the beautiful pre-human history of Damascus (or the world for that matter), and the last piece, Will rise from ashes, is a hopeful look into the future. The music is built over an electronic tape track, which is a mix between musique concrète, and granular synthesized sounds, combined with live instruments that oscillates between jazz, improvisation, and Arabic maqam.


Kinan Abou-afach is a composer, cellist, and oud player. The Syrian-born musician began his musical studies at the Arabic Institute of Music in Damascus, then moved to the U.S. in 2000 to study at DePaul University School of Music. Abou-afach performed throughout the Middle East, Asia, Europe and North America. As a composer, Abou-afach crafts music that is​ ​saturated with unique scales, rhythmic grooves​, and improvisation-esque​ ​​progressions, creating sounds that are ​​​based​ ​loosely on the Arabic modal traditions known as maqam​, while using elements from the western traditions (classical, jazz, electronic, musique concrète)​. He has composed for concerts, as well as film, live theater, and live visual art.


deVon Russell Gray, Nathan Hanson, and Davu Seru--Photo by Elena Stanton

deVon Russell Gray, Nathan Hanson, and Davu Seru–Photo by Elena Stanton


The music of We Sick is surrender: lyricism as it moves from interior to exterior, moaning within the living space of a sanctuary. The sanctuary recorded here — a church 150 years old and rendered vacant by COVID — became an ensemble member through its sound and ambiance. We recorded together on December 28, 2020, across the street from the Minnesota State Capitol, weeks after police murdered George Floyd and several months into the coronavirus quarantine. The National Guard and their heavily armed presence provided a tangible reminder of the old dharma that house is field, white is Black and that — without question — we sick. The music made that day reflects the feelings of isolation from each other, hunger for justice, and the weariness of the wait. We offer it to you as a humble confession and renewed covenant.


Nathan Hanson, Davu Seru, and deVon Russell Gray have been making music in places around the world and across the street. Composers, improvisers, community members–their sound is a reminder that we are all in this together. They each reside in St. Paul, MN.



The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization Inc., a 501©(3) private foundation, was established in 1996 by pianist Claudette Sorel and named for her parents. The Sorel Organization ( is committed to expanding opportunities for women in music, amplifying the voices of underrepresented composers, advancing gender and racial equity, and broadening the classical music canon for future generations.


Celebrating its 40th anniversary, The in-house record label of American Composers Forum, innova Recordings serves the needs of original, visionary, creative musicians by offering artistic and technical guidance throughout the recording and publication process; amplifying the reach of new musical ideas through access to our marketing and distribution networks; and actively working together to maximize professional impact. Together, we champion a curated body of diverse and compelling American musical voices to the listening public. Learn more at


ACF supports and advocates for individuals and groups creating music today by demonstrating the vitality and relevance of their art. We connect artists with collaborators, organizations, audiences, and resources. Through storytelling, publications, recordings, hosted gatherings, and industry leadership, we activate equitable opportunities for artists. We provide direct funding and mentorship to a broad and diverse field of music creators, highlighting those who have been historically excluded from participation.

Founded in 1973 by composers Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus as the Minnesota Composers Forum, the organization continues to invest in its Minnesota home while connecting artists and advocates across the United States, its territories, and beyond. ACF frames our work with a focus on racial equity and includes within that scope, but not limit it to, diverse gender identities, musical approaches and perspectives, religions, ages, (dis)abilities, cultures, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and broad definitions of being “American.” Visit for more information.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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