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Hope, for the future: ORA Singers launches their second Composer Competition for state-school only aspiring composers.

19th October 2020

Photo Credit: Nick Rutter, from the 2019 Composer Competition Final Concert

The award-winning ensemble, ORA Singers, announces its 2020/21 ORA Singers Composer Competition with applications now open! The trail-blazing commissioning group, which recently presented a message of ‘Hope’ in a socially-distanced livestream from Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, is now returning its attention to state-sector secondary school students, many of whom cannot access specialist compositional mentoring due to educational funding cuts, compounded by the current pandemic.

The scheme, a ‘one of a kind’ for Composer Competitions, selects young musicians from state-only schools to be mentored for free by a professional composer in order to write an original choral work. Initially launched in 2019 to great success and lead-adjudicated by the group’s President, Stephen Fry, the ORA Singers Composer Competition is designed to nourish and develop young talent that otherwise might be overlooked. Deliberately targeting young people who have not yet had access to specialist tutoring, the programme assesses personal statements alongside any musical work (complete or incomplete) before hand-picking 10 deserving state-school students and pairing them with a composer who provides up to 10 hours of guidance and teaching.

After the success of ORA Singers’ inaugural Composer Competition in 2019, the group has added even more opportunities for students. New to the 2020/21 Competition is the introduction of a secondary tier of applicants, alongside the 10 Competition Finalists; these 20 ‘ORA Apprentices’ will receive behind-the-scenes access to the Competition, including a workshop, and professional advice to help them in their composer development. In addition, the competition has built-in plans for either in-person or virtual lessons, workshops and a final presentation of the works; enabling the Competition to run regardless of the possible COVID-19 restrictions or the feasibility of audiences in concert venues.

ORA Singers is also delighted that Scala Radio will be the Official Media Partner of the 2020/21 ORA Singers Composer Competition.

2019 Competition Winner, Emily Pedersen commented:

“It wasn’t just a competition, it was also an incredible growth opportunity. Out of everything I did last year, being a finalist for the ORA Singers Youth Competition was the thing that helped me grow the most as a musician and helped me going forward. The combination of the mentoring (something I hadn’t had before) and working with a incredible professional musicians nurtured me as a composer and also built my confidence. Seeing Suzi Digby conduct was also really special for me as it was the first time I’d seen a woman conduct a professional concert and made me want to try conducting more myself.  The other finalists were all so lovely; I’m still in touch with some of them now and I feel really lucky to have been able to work alongside such great composers and people. It has inspired me to keep writing and exploring choral music and encouraged me to seek out other competitions. All in all, I feel incredibly privileged to have been part of it.”

After winning the first ORA Singers Composer Competition, Emily has since gone on to study composition at the Royal Northern College of Music and has also been selected as a finalist for the National Centre for Early Music’s Young Composers Award and as participant for the Royal Philharmonic Society Women’s Conductors Course in Manchester 2020.

Natalie Docherty, ORA Singers project manager of the Competition added:
“We are so immensely proud of all of our young composers and what they have been able to achieve since the first competition. This is why we are delighted to be repeating the scheme and even expanding the mentoring further with the addition of our ORA Apprentices. The uncertainty of COVID-19 has its challenges, but whether in-person or virtually, we are utterly confident in the delivery of this programme. The main focus of this competition is the mentoring; education is so vital for the development and future of these young musicians. And we want to give hope, for the future of these young composers and music-making at a time when everything is in the balance.”

Applications to the ORA Singers Composer Competition are now open for young aspiring composers born on or after 1st September 2002 and in attendance at a UK secondary state-school. Full terms and conditions can be found on the ORA Singers website ( and applicants will have until noon on Friday 8th January 2021 to submit their applications.