The First Readings Project gives voice to composers

J. David Moore is founder of The First Readings Project, a forum for composers to workshop new pieces. Photo by Max Ostenso

J. David Moore recalls a time when conductors routinely sat at a piano with stacks of sheet music, playing through them until they found the right piece.

“Nobody does that anymore,” said Moore, a composer, conductor, teacher and a capella singer based in Linden Hills. “Because recording is so easy, it is a professional necessity to have recordings of work.”

That’s why he founded the First Readings Project. He wanted to give composers of all experience levels the chance to workshop their pieces with professionals and come away with a demo.

He hires a chamber choir of “whiz-bang sight readers” for 40-minute sessions with each composer.

After a first reading, they ask the composer if the piece is what they imagined, or what they would like to tweak. Singers can advise on technical issues as well, like whether a particular note is possible for most voices at a certain dynamic level.

“I only hire per project, because I need the best in town,” he said.

Since launching in 2012, the First Readings Project has performed nearly 200 pieces. Some of the best and newest selections are available on SoundCloud.

Submissions arrive from all over the world; the choir recently recorded a session remotely for a composer in Tel Aviv. For optimal acoustics, they record at churches like St. Mark’s Cathedral in Loring Park.

In the early years, sessions were open to the public.

“Audiences weren’t big, but they were the right kind of geeks,” Moore said.

He spent so much time raising money for the workshops, he decided to end the nonprofit public performances. But private recording sessions continue.

“The need for this is still out there,” said Moore. “I put out a year’s worth of dates and they’re full.”

“It’s such a thrill and an honor to work with that level of talent,” said Kyle Pederson, a pianist and composer. “Some pieces have never been performed. You get that absolute joy hearing it.”

“I’m not as aware of the magic, because it’s all just sweat for me,” Moore said.

To listen to the First Readings Project, visit