Gillian Rae Perry ’17 Named Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer

Meadows alum Gillian Rae Perry (B.M., B.A. ’17) was selected for a two-year residency at the Chicago Opera Theater in the Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer Program.

Meadows alum Gillian Rae Perry begins residency at Chicago Opera Theater
Gillian Rae Perry '17

Earlier this fall, Meadows alum Gillian Rae Perry (B.M., B.A. ’17) began a two-year residency as a Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer at the Chicago Opera Theater (COT). The Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer Program, part of COT’s Vanguard Initiative, identifies established composers who have yet to write a full-length opera and helps them develop the specific skills and tools to make that a reality.


Perry’s love for musical composition began early in her college career and was only enhanced following an impactful experience where the Meadows Symphony Orchestra read an excerpt of one of her pieces. From there, her interest expanded to include not only orchestra composition, but also voice composition.


“I feel that my education at SMU, particularly studying with Dr. Lane Harder, really cultivated my love of writing for the voice,” explains Perry. “When I was a sophomore, opera composer Jake Heggie visited the Composers’ Forum and it was very inspiring, so when I saw he was a mentor for the Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer Program it piqued my interest.”


During her time in the program, which only admits one composer to the residency each year, Perry will work closely with Jake Heggie, along with composer Kamala Sankaram and librettist Gene Scheer, all of whom are Vanguard Advisors. The first, and current, year of Perry’s residency is largely focused on education and mentorship. In addition to studying with the Vanguard Advisors, program participants learn how Chicago Opera Theater runs behind the scenes by sitting in on rehearsals and board meetings. In her second year, Perry will have the opportunity to write her own opera and have it rehearsed, work shopped and performed with COT. But this is far from the first time she has composed her own operas.


“My senior year at SMU I received an engaged learning grant which allowed me to run a program that created micro-operas and micro-musicals called New Music For Stage,” says Perry. “The experience of running that program helped me to gain confidence in my abilities to self-produce and make things happen.”


And things have certainly been happening for Gillian Rae Perry! In addition to her acceptance into the Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer Program, she won the 2017 Tennessee Valley Music Festival Young Composers Competition and was awarded a Composition Fellowship with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra where she was a Composer Fellow for both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. On top of these accomplishments, Perry’s debut singer-songwriter album Gilly was released in 2021, followed closely by her second album Gilligil in 2022.


Whether she’s composing operas, orchestras, or ballads, it is clear Perry is a force to be reckoned with and we can’t wait to see what compositions result from her residency with the Chicago Opera Theater.