CCM Collaborative Piano alumnus Samuel Martin (MM, 2016) founded the Cincinnati Song Initiative (CSI) in 2016 to bring a concentrated and cohesive source of art song to the greater Cincinnati area. Now in its third season, the organization’s efforts recently earned a Stand for the Arts Award from Ovation, an independent television and digital media company dedicated to celebrating and supporting all forms of arts and culture.

Ovation, in collaboration with Spectrum, awarded twelve Stand for the Arts Awards to exceptional arts and culture organizations in select Spectrum markets. The award includes a $10,000 grant, which Martin plans to use to hire artists from around the country to participate in CSI concerts, and to continue the organization’s mission to produce top-notch and innovative performances.

“As a new organization, we seek with every concert to bring more and more audience members into our family, and receiving this award is proof that CSI enriches the community it serves by connecting diverse audiences which might not otherwise be connected,” Martin says.

CCM alumnus Samuel Martin. Photo by Jackie Stevens.

CCM alumnus Samuel Martin, who is the Founding Artistic Director of the Cincinnati Song Initiative. Photo by Jackie Stevens.

Martin is originally from New York, and he earned his bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College before he pursued his master’s at CCM. He currently serves on the music staff of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where he performs in numerous song recitals with graduate-level singers throughout the academic year.

Martin founded CSI in early 2016, and the organization had its first concert in October of that year. It focuses on the development and performance of art song; that is, songs that are not part of a larger opera or other work. They are often set to existing poetry and accompanied solely by piano, although some utilize other instruments as well.

“CSI was inspired by numerous factors,” Martin says. “Of note, the passion for art song my CCM mentor, Ken Griffiths, displayed in his teachings every single day was infectious. His reverence for the greatest poetry set to music by first-rate composers leaves his students with an equal appreciation for song.”

Griffiths, a Professor of Collaborative Piano at CCM, is on the CSI Board of Directors, which also includes CCM professor and Accompanist-in-Residence Donna Loewy and alumnus Paul Scholten (MM, 2009). Elena Villalón, who studies with CCM baritone William McGraw, is CSI’s Associate Artistic Director.

“With so many phenomenal singers and pianists based in Cincinnati, it was surprising to me that an organization devoted to art song didn’t already exist. If cities like Denver, Seattle, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and New York could all support the song genre, Cincinnati certainly could.”

Now in its third season, CSI’s season-opening benefit concert is on Sept. 22, 2018. Titled Alma de España: España 1, the concert features art song from Spanish-speaking nations, including works by Federico García Lorca and Manuel de Falla. Another feature of the upcoming season is Americana: Then and Now, a showcase of art song from the U.S. that includes pieces by Samuel Barber, Libby Larsen and Charles Ives.

The Cincinnati Song Initiative also has two less-traditional concerts planned for this season. On August 25, CSI presented a concert in Austin with both Cincinnati and Texas-based artists, and on Sept. 19 CSI presents a collaborative concert with the Lynx Project at Taft’s Ale House.

“The goal of this event is to maximize the accessibility of art song and expose people to the genre who may not normally think to attend an art song concert,” explained Martin, who hopes that the combination of brews and belting will spread the love of song to a new audience.

Learn more about the Cincinnati Song Initiative at


Story by CCM Graduate Student Alexandra Doyle

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