Baylor University’s A Cappella Choir Wins The American Prize in Collegiate Choral Division

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    Baylor University's A Cappella Choir
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    Brian A. Schmidt, D.M.A., associate professor of choral music and director of graduate choral studies in Baylor's School of Music
July 28, 2020

Organization’s national nonprofit competitions in the performing arts are the nation’s most comprehensive series of contests in the classical arts

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-644-4155
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WACO, Texas (July 28, 2020) – Baylor University’s A Cappella Choir, under the direction of Brian A. Schmidt, D.M.A., associate professor of choral music and director of graduate choral studies in the Baylor School of Music, has been announced as the winner of The American Prize in the Collegiate Choral Division for 2020.

The American Prize is the nation's most comprehensive series of contests in the classical arts. The nonprofit organization is designed to evaluate, recognize and reward the best performers, ensembles and composers in the country based on submitted recordings. The American Prize has attracted thousands of qualified contestants from all 50 states since its founding in 2009 and is presented yearly in many of the performing arts.

For nearly 90 years, the Baylor choral program – including the flagship A Cappella Choir – has established a long tradition of leadership in choral music across the nation, abroad and in every major concert venue in the United States. Selected by competitive audition, the A Cappella Choir combines some of the most advanced singers at Baylor, both music majors and non-music majors, and focuses on cultivating meaningful fellowship and rich artistic singing. The A Cappella Choir performs a wide variety of musical styles, with solo performances and collaborative projects with other areas of the School of Music.

“Music brings us together and makes life richer in countless ways. Now, more than at any time in my life, we need this sense of shared community,” said Gary Mortenson, D.M.A., dean of the Baylor School of Music. “A Cappella Choir has a long-standing commitment to excellence here at Baylor University. We are honored to receive The American Prize’s recognition in the College and University Choir division. This award is a tribute to the leadership and vision of Dr. Schmidt and the dedication of all of the students who commit their talents to rehearsing and performing in A Cappella Choir.”

“I am excited for our students to receive this honor, and I am very proud of them,” Schmidt said. “Being selected as winner of The American Prize, College and University Choir division, is a wonderful honor for our students. Previous winners in this division include institutions such as Westminster Choir College and Indiana University, so our students have proven that they are capable of working at a level comparable to some of the nation's most highly regarded choral programs.

“As Baylor faculty, we all know our Baylor students are talented and amazing individuals, and it is wonderful to receive such a positive confirmation from an esteemed jury of national experts in the field,” he said.

VIDEO: The Baylor A Cappella Choir performs "A Little Jazz Mass" by Bob Chilcott, published by Oxford University Press. Brian A. Schmidt, conductor. Jazz Combo: Chris Bandy, Jonathan Keith, and Grant Seither, The Wayne Fisher Jazz Program. Alex Parker, director.

“Our students at Baylor University are among some of the finest in the country,” said Lynne Gackle, Ph.D., director of choral activities, professor of ensembles and The Mary Gibbs Jones Chair in Music in the School of Music. “It is no surprise that their hard work and dedication should be acknowledged by this award. Their passion for music and their inherent drive towards excellence in all that they do is what makes working with them so inspiring each and every day. The receipt of this award by the A Cappella choir and Dr. Schmidt further illuminates the talent and commitment of our students and the long-standing tradition of excellence in choral music at Baylor University.”

Austin Henry, a junior majoring in choral music education, said that the choir “truly is filled with incredible musicians who are all dedicated to making beautiful music with one another. We focus in on the idea that in order to move forward as an ensemble, we each have to do our part. This ideal gives each person the drive to focus in on their personal growth so that we can ultimately see the team succeed.

“Dr. Schmidt creates a space in which everyone is able to be and sound like themselves while also intentionally playing on each individual’s strengths as well as encouraging growth in regards to everyone’s weaknesses,” he said. “It is an absolute honor to be able to be coined as the winner of The American Prize in Choral Performance, and I truly believe that this is a testament not only to the work of the 2019-2020 Baylor A Cappella Choir, but also to the alumni who have come before it and have made the group into the flagship choral ensemble that it stands as today.”

Shannon Skillman, a senior majoring in choral music education, said that the choir has given her “friends for a lifetime, memories for a lifetime and enough joy and laughter for eternity. As musicians, we crave these larger-than-life mountaintop and goose bump moments — when a chord locks perfectly, when the group finds the perfect blend, the peak of a piece — and when we do, time stands still. And, we experience these timeless moments amid a tight-knit community of friends. This makes the experiences all the sweeter.

“It’s looking up from your score and seeing the choir singing and radiating joy, all together,” she said. “It’s the moment when everyone’s eyes twinkle and hearts beat in the magic. It’s finishing a piece and taking in the stillness together. We live in all of these moments together, and there is absolutely nothing like that feeling in the world.”

In addition to conducting the A Cappella Choir and Chamber Singers, Schmidt is founder and director of the GRAMMY-nominated South Dakota Chorale and won The American Prize in the 2016-2017 Professional Choir Division for his conducting work with that chorale.


The Baylor University School of Music provides transformational experiences that prepare students for careers in music. Students thrive in a Christian environment characterized by a nurturing resident faculty, an unwavering pursuit of musical excellence, a global perspective, dedication to service and devotion to faith. They investigate the rich musical and cultural heritage of the past, develop superior musical skills and knowledge in the present, and explore and create new modes of musical expression for the future. While preparing for future leadership roles, students join with School of Music faculty in enhancing the quality of community life, enriching the larger culture and making Baylor a place in which heart, mind and soul coalesce. Baylor’s School of Music is a member of the National Association of Schools of Music and the Texas Association of Music Schools. Degree programs include bachelor’s and master’s degrees in performance, music education and academic majors, as well as doctoral degrees in church music. Degrees leading to the Bachelor of Music Education conform to certification requirements of the Texas Education Agency. Visit to learn more.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 18,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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