Big Sky Choral Initiative

July 16th - 30th, 2017

High up in the mountains of Big Sky Montana, the Choral Initiative is an artistic partnership between the Philadelphia-based professional chamber choir The Crossing and the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, and the project brings a small group of top talent together in an environment that supports rigorous training and fosters the creation of inspiring new choral music.



An absolutely INCREDIBLE week. I’ll never forget it.
— 2016 Vocal Fellow


The Big Sky Choral Initiative consists of two seven-day training and performance experiences for fellows specializing in choral singing, conducting, and composition and a career development opportunity for high caliber professionals.


WEEK 1 (July 16th - 23rd):  Vocal and Composition Fellows
with Gavin Bryars

Week 1 features composer-in-residence Gavin Bryars in an immersive program that has already proved to be both popular and enormously successful.  Up to 16 Vocal Fellows and 5 Composition Fellows will join 12 members of The Crossing to explore contemporary music for choirs and the new works written for the Choral Initiative by composition fellows, who will study with Gavin Bryars and workshop their new pieces with The Crossing and Donald Nally.  At the end of the week, Choral Initiative Fellows and The Crossing will premiere the new works, music of Gavin Bryars, and additional recent works at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.

WEEK 2 (July 23rd - 30th):  Conducting Fellows
with donald nally

A unique opportunity for experienced conductors grappling with the challenges and joys of new and recent choral literature.  Each conductor will conduct an ensemble of 20, with 12 members of The Crossing at its core, for no less than 45 minutes daily for five days. Coached by Donald Nally, they will work on the manner in which gesture and breath effect and generate sound and color, how to introduce new works and teach them, how to approach scores of varying complexity, and how to define and convey meaning.  Daily lunch roundtables with Donald are largely led by the interests of Conducting Fellows and will cover "where we are" in choral music, programming, presentation, "what is a choral concert" in 2017 and beyond, work/life balance, and personal authenticity. Conducting Fellows will train as professionals with professional singers and arguably the country's leading conductor of contemporary choral music; an immersive program, with time to live in the mountains of Montana.  Program is designed for both conductors and teachers of conducting.

Singers also welcome to apply as Vocal Fellows for the Conductors' Week.


Fellows of the Big Sky Choral Initiative actually become a member of The Crossing choir with Donald Nally for an entire week in Big Sky.  Composition fellows work with the choir every day to realize sounds they never could have imagined possible; vocal fellows explore more new music than they might have otherwise realized in an entire lifetime; and conducting fellows get to mold the sounds of one of the most celebrated new music ensembles on the planet.  For 2017, the Big Sky Choral Initiative will be limited to 16 Vocal Fellows, 8 Conducting Fellows, and 5 Composition Fellows.  

Quite simply the best thing I have ever done as a composer.
— 2016 Composition Fellow




Donald Nally conducts The Crossing.  He is also John W. Beattie Chair of Music and director of choral organizations at Northwestern University.  He has held distinguished tenures as chorus master for Lyric Opera of Chicago, Welsh National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Spoleto USA, and for many seasons at the Spoleto Festival in Italy.  He has served as artistic director of the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati and the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia.  Among the many ensembles Donald has guest conducted are the Latvian State Choir in Riga, the Grant Park Symphony Chorus in Chicago, the Philharmonia Chorus of London, and the Santa Fe Desert Choral.  His ensembles have sung with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Ballet, Spoleto USA, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia Cymru, RAI National Symphony Orchestra, and ICE; his work is heard on numerous recordings on ECM, CHandos, Navona, Albany, and Innova record labels.  Donald is the recipient of the Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal from Chorus America; he is the only conductor to have two ensembles receive the Margaret Hillis Award for Excellence in Choral Music - in 2002 with The Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, and in 2015 with The Crossing.  His book, Conversations with Joseph Flummerfelt, was published in 2011.


2017 Composer-in-residence:  GAVIN BRYARS

Gavin Bryars studied philosophy at Sheffield University and became a professional jazz bassist and a pioneer of free improvisation working especially with Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley. In the late 1960s he worked with John Cage and this influenced early works such as the indeterminately scored The Sinking of the Titanic of 1969 and the classic Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet of 1971. 

A major turning point in his development was his first opera Medea, premièred at the Opéra de Lyon and Opéra de Paris in 1984 (directed and designed by Robert Wilson), and given a concert performance by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 1995. He has written two further operas, both with libretti by his long time collaborator Blake Morrison: Doctor Ox's Experiment (English National Opera 1998, directed by Atom Egoyan, & also at Theater Dortmund, 1999), and G (directed by Georges Delnon), commissioned by the Staatstheater Mainz for the Gutenberg 600th anniversary.His latest opera, Marilyn Forever, will be presented by Aventa on 12 & 13 September at the MacPherson Playhouse Theatre, Victoria, BC. 

Gavin Bryars' work is widely recorded on ECM, Incus, Point, Philips, Argo, Clarinet Classics, Daphénéo, CBC Records, Touch, Mode, and on his own label GB Records.




The Crossing is a professional chamber choir conducted by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music.  Formed by a group of friends in 2005, the ensemble’s reputation has since grown exponentially and “has made a name for itself in recent years as a champion of new music.” (The New York Times, 2/14). Consistently recognized in critical reviews, The Crossing has been hailed as “ardently angelic” (Los Angeles Times, 4/14) and “something of a miracle” (The Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/14).  Highly sought-after for collaborative projects, The Crossing has sung with the Los Angeles Philarhomic, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the American Composers Orchestra, Network for New Music, Lyric Fest, the baroque orchestra Quicksilver, PRISM Saxophone Quartet, Toshimaru Nakamura, and The Rolling Stones. The ensemble has sung at Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Upcoming collaborations include National Sawdust in Brooklyn, the Gardner Museum in Boston, the Cleveland Art Museum, Colgate and Harvartd Universities, and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.  They premiered John Luther Adams' Sila: the breath of the world at Lincoln Center in collaboration with the Mostly Mozart Festival, Lincoln Center's Out of Doors Festival, eighth blackbird, Jack Quartet, and TILT brass. 

The Crossing has an ongoing commitment to recording the many works they commission; they appear on the Innova, Navona, Albany, and ECM labels.  The ensemble is the recipient of the 2015 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, two ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming, as well as the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award from Chorus America.

The Crossing is represented by Alliance Artists Management.


  • Up to 16 Vocal Fellows and 5 Composition Fellows are accepted into the program.  For 2017, up to 8 Conducting Fellows will be accepted in the second session.
  • Tuition is $1395 per session for over 40 hours of professional training, shared accommodations at Big Sky Resort, local transportation, and three meals a day.
  • Mountain activities in Big Sky including White-Water Rafting, Hiking, Exploring and more.

  • Culminating performance of unprecedented new work at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.