Pitches with a Purpose

By Steven Libowitz   |   August 24, 2021
Rachel Martin won the praise for her adaptation of the Cards Against Humanity game

In the online realm, the MAW fellows hit the ball out of the park in this year’s Fast Pitch Awards, the academy’s second-year Shark Tank-style competition for the fellows to propose innovative ideas for products, services, or performances related to new approaches to classical music. Nearly all the eight hopefuls who made it onto the live Zoom webinar final on Monday night had serious causes in mind beyond their own musical growth, or, as one of the judges remarked halfway through, “Projects that seek to solve a problem.” Issues addressed included taking an operatic approach to better understand whales and their sounds, integrating Korean folk music into classical, and using music to combat bone marrow cancer. 

Anush Avetisyan focused her work on the effects of Armenian genocide

However, none of those were named winners. Instead, the judges chose baritone Byron Mayes’ Black Cultural Online Opera Series, an effort to broaden the scope of Black-artist opera “beyond the history and the trauma” to instead focus on “love, joy, and food,” as judge Clive Chang put it. Judge Kelly-Hall Tompkins praised Mayes’ approach to the “paradox” of the mission to have Black trauma taken more seriously but not exclusively “in a genre that’s addicted to trauma.” Also winning was Anush Avetisyan, whose proposed Armenian Diaspora series aims to shed musical light on the long-lasting effects of the Armenian genocide.

On the polar opposite was the offering of Rachel Martin, whose concept is about adapting the Cards Against Humanity game — which she said she played endlessly in her spare time while in college – into one for musicians. Martin has already created a prototype of Cards Against Musicians and her recorded pitch included two-second clips of rave reviews from colleagues, and even more impressively showed that the game captivated Michael Tilson Thomas so completely he engaged in play for more than an hour during a chance encounter on a bullet train in Asia.

The Fast Pitch presentation proved that a hybrid of recorded content and live Q&A over Zoom can make virtual programming more than viable in the right hands. Bravo!


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