Christian Jesse Wins American Prize Competition

Meadows thesis earns top award in student choral short works division

Christian Jesse
Christian Jesse (M.M. '19)

Christian Jesse, who earned a Master of Music in composition at SMU Meadows School of the Arts in 2019, has won first place in the student choral division (short works) of The American Prize in Composition competition for 2019-20 for his work Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis.

The American Prize was founded in 2009 and is awarded annually in many areas of the performing arts. The American Prize in Composition recognizes and rewards the best composers in America of works for orchestra, chorus, concert band, chamber ensemble, pops, or theater music (opera-musical theater, theater, film, dance) that have been read or publicly performed.  Winners receive cash prizes, certificates, written evaluations and regional, national and international recognition based on recorded performances. Winners are also profiled on The American Prize website.

Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis was Jesse’s master’s thesis at SMU, written under the mentorship of Associate Professor of Composition and Theory Robert Frank. Scored for choir, organ, string quintet and percussion, the work takes its text from the Book of Common Prayer and is a nonliturgical concert setting of evensong canticles. The 16-minute piece was premiered in 2019 by the Meadows new music ensemble SYZYGY, under the direction of Dr. Lane Harder, lecturer in music theory and composition.

“While Christian had composed other award-winning choral works in the past, this was his first attempt at including a larger ensemble along with the chorus,” said Dr. Frank. “The wonderful color palette of our Fisk organ in Caruth Auditorium inspired him to include organ for the first time as well. The result was nothing short of magical.”

Another student of Dr. Frank, Olga Amelkina-Vera (M.M. ’17), won the same prestigious award two years ago.  “To have a second work from our program win this major national competition is a real confirmation of the high quality of our program and the talent and dedication of our students,” said Dr. Frank.

“Writing Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis was a special and emotional journey for me,” said Jesse. “There were many difficult and exciting events happening for my family in the months leading up to the premiere. I wanted to pour my heart out onto this piece, to capture all the emotions I felt reading the first two chapters of Luke, well knowing that in a few months I was going to become a father to a baby boy. I am humbled to have received this award, and I am grateful that God put so many passionate and experienced mentors in my life to help cultivate and nurture this gift that God gave me.”

Listen to the performance of Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis by SYZYGY and Meadows choral students.

About Christian Jesse

Jesse received his M.M. in composition at Meadows in spring 2019. He earned a B.A. in music composition at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where his awards included the 2016 Edna and Judson Loomis Prize in Music, and first place in both the 2016 Wisconsin Alliance for Composers’ Student Composer Competition (undergraduate division) and the 2017 Spring University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Concerto Competition for Composition. While at SMU, he was named the Irving Symphony Orchestra 2018-19 Student Composer-in-Residence, premiering the work A Soldier’s Memory with the orchestra for its Veteran’s Day concert in 2018. He also won SMU’s 2019 Roy and Sue Johnson Award, given to a graduating student in any music field selected by vote of the entire music faculty for a combination of high standards in scholarship and artistry. With a passion for writing in all mediums, Jesse has composed works for various ensembles, musicians, video games and film. He continues to explore new sounds, techniques and genres as he works toward his dream career: composing for choir, orchestra and video games. For more information, visit

About The American Prize

The American Prize National Nonprofit Competitions in the Performing Arts grew from the belief that a great deal of excellent music being made in the U.S. goes unrecognized and unheralded, not only in  major cities, but all across the country: in schools and churches, in colleges and universities, and by community and professional musicians.

The American Prize seeks to fill the gap that leaves excellent artists and ensembles struggling for visibility and viability. It recognizes and rewards the best America produces, without bias against small city versus large, or unknown artist versus well known.

David Katz is the chief judge of The American Prize. Professional conductor, award-winning composer, playwright, actor and arts advocate, he is author of Muse of Fire, the acclaimed one-man play about the art of conducting. Joining Katz in selecting winners of The American Prize is a panel of judges of varied background and experience. Made up of distinguished musicians representing virtually every region of the country, the group includes professional vocalists, conductors, composers and pianists, tenured professors, and orchestra, band and choral musicians.

“Most artists may never win a Grammy award, or a Pulitzer, or a Tony, or perhaps ever even be nominated,” Katz said, “but that does not mean that they are not worthy of recognition and reward. Quality in the arts is not limited to the coasts, or to the familiar names, or only to graduates of a few schools. It is on view all over the United States, if you take the time to look for it. The American Prize exists to encourage and herald that excellence.”

The American Prize is administered by Hat City Music Theater, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit performing arts organization based in Danbury, Connecticut. For more information, visit