History of ACM

ACM was started in 2004 by Seth Boustead, a composer and active advocate for new classical music.  Boustead was concerned that there weren’t enough opportunities for composers to get their music heard, that classical music lovers often had a negative impression of contemporary music and that the general public, by and large, did not know that there were still people composing classical music in the modern era.To give composers a chance to hear their music, Boustead, a pianist, started reading through pieces by living composers with his friends.  In time they decided to do this every week, to record them and to post an mp3 to a website and send it out in a newsletter and Accessible Contemporary Music, as we were then called, was born.  The first call for scores was answered by over a hundred composers and it would take four years to work through that initial glut of scores, a clear indicator of the dire need most composers have to hear their music.


The first ACM website was a list of composers with their pictures and bios and, if a piece had been recorded, a link to the audio.  In 2005 cellist Alyson Berger, a staple on the readings series, and several of the more dedicated musicians formed Palomar, ACM’s resident ensemble.  ACM and Palomar work together to produce an annual concert season consisting of music by living composers, and Palomar also frequently performs on other series and has traveled to perform in Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, Stanford University and the University of Arizona in Tucson among others.  Palomar is led by our fearless Artistic Director Francesco Milioto.


In 2006 ACM started Composer Alive, an annual commissioning program in which a composer writes a new piece of music in installments and emails them to us throughout the summer.  Palomar performs each installment in an open rehearsal, records it and posts it to the ACM website with comments from the composer.   This program gives the composer the freedom to take risks and try new things because if it doesn’t work, he can always change it in the next installment.  It also gives an audience the chance to come to the website and hear the piece grow from first drafts, through rewrites, to the finished product.   Composer Alive culminates in a final concert in which we perform the World Premiere of the new piece with the composer present. The first year our collaboration was with celebrated Chinese composer Xiaogang Ye as part of the Silk Road Chicago project held by Yo-Yo Ma, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Art Institute of Chicago.  Ye wrote a new piece for us called Datura and the final concert at the Chicago Cultural Center was attended by 500 people.  We also worked with filmmaker Dave Less, who had previously submitted a film to our Sound of Silent Film Festival, to make a 60 minute documentary film about the project.  Thanks to support from Boeing and United, we were able to travel to Beijing for the film which led to such compelling footage that it was shown on PBS.  You can watch the film here.Since that first year we have worked with composers around the globe for the Composer Alive Project, including France, Ireland, Japan, Canada, the USA, and Mexico.

Because educating the general public that the classical music tradition is alive and kicking is part of the original mission, in 2007 Boustead started the ACM School of Music in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood.  At first it wasn’t much, a couch, a piano and a few chairs and music stands but it has since grown to serve 120 students in piano, violin, cello, flute, composition, theory, guitar and voice.  All students learn creativity alongside rote learning, meaning that they will of course learn to read notes but they also learn to create their own music and notate it for others to play.For most of our students the ACM School of Music is the first contact they have with contemporary music.  Now many of our students regularly attend our concerts and are becoming new music fans!


Thanks to support from the Arts Work Fund at the Chicago Community Trust, we have built a composer membership program that serves composers from around the world.   We have provided a pathway for composers at any stage of their career, from those just starting out to the most established composer.  Composers in the early stages of their career can take online classes to improve their craft and submit to our Weekly Readings program in order to hear their music performed.  Composers who are further  along can submit music to Global Connections in which we partner with ensembles in cities around the world to perform their music.And the most advanced composers are eligible for commissioning by ACM and to write for our programs like Sound of Silent Film, Open House Chicago and many others.  All composers receive a profile with bio and picture and a “dashboard” for when they are logged in, through which they can manage and submit to opportunities, communicate with ACM or other composers, stay abreast of the field through blogs and other relevant articles, hire ACM musicians at a discount and gradually move through the ranks until are eligible for commissions.


In 2011 we changed our name from Accessible Contemporary Music to Access Contemporary Music.  We are still providing access to musicians for composers but we didn’t want people to think that accessibility had anything to do with the kind of music we program as we are dedicated to championing notated music in all genres.Through our educational initiatives that promote creativity, our concert season that brings in new audiences and our innovative collaborations throughout the world, we are creating a culture of normalcy for contemporary music and increasing interest in classical music in general by presenting it to the public as a living tradition.