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Composition Immersion in Brazil

The International Brazilian Opera Institute offers a contemporary opera composition course workshop in partnership with the Cultural Institute Casa Nobre at Guarda do Embaú, Santa Catarina. 

Enjoy an immersive course with access to state-of-the-art grand pianos while waking up to the ocean’s sound and the whales’ songs. A life-changing experience in one of the most beautiful natural environments in Brazil. Join us in a tropical paradise and dive into your music. 

Professor: João MacDowell

Pianist: Sam Machado

The new shapes of vocal music: Composing for the contemporary opera scene. 

You may register for one or both of the 2023 Workshops:

March 11-16, 2024 – Spring Composition (Large Forms)

  • Post-Carnaval Guarda is low on tourists and high on music. This course traditionally opens the musical season at Casa Nobre, setting the tone of innovation and creativity for the local music scene. Composers will have a chance to interact with local talent and develop a new composition. Selected composers will be included in the closing concert. 

August 12-17, 2024 – Summer Composition (The Whale songs)

  • This is the time when whales come to mate in the Bay at Guarda do Embaú. This course benefits from a community of musicians who are eager to interact and experience new voices in composition. Composers will have a chance to interact with local talent and develop new compositions. Selected composers will be included in the closing concert. 

The classes will focus on:

  • Structural planning in opera and other long-form styles. 
  • Characteristics of the voices in contemporary opera setting. 
  • Demoing instrumental parts and preparing a digital guide for record production.
  • Tempo Map or Conductor Track
  • Polyharmonic and polycultural writing. 
  • From small to large: thematic writing and structuring large-scale compositions.
  • Opera and collaboration.
  • The opera composer as a cultural force.
  • Strategies to think, demo, workshop, and premiere productions.

Students should develop skills in melodic writing, text editing for voice, harmonic development, rhythmic frame, large and expansive form, notation standards, software strategies for organization of large scores, techniques for remote recording and electronic demo, virtual orchestra, tempo map, and self-criticism. 

Fee:  U$1500.00 (Early bird! till December 31, 2023)

          U$1800.00 (from January 1, to Jan 31st 2024)

          U$1900.00 (from February 1, to March 31, 2024)

          U$ 2100.00 (after April 1)

Housing and breakfast included. 

(Not included: Other meals and transport to and from Guarda do Embaú – Santa Catarina, Brazil)

Application Form


Application Deadline: 

For Spring Group: March 01, 2024.

For Summer Group:  July 05, 2024



International Applications are welcome.

Brazil Visa for short-term stays can be obtained online:

The course is geared towards adults. Exceptional students aged 12 and up will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Students under 18 must have parent or guardian authorization and be dropped off and picked up to class by a responsible adult. 


(*Estudantes brasileiros e locais podem qualificar para bolsas.)


  • Facility with music writing
  • Basic knowledge of notation and music production software
  • Some experience as a composer and/or arranger


MacDowell, João: Polyharmony and Consonance – An Architectural Approach to Contemporary Large-scale Composition – WORK IN PROGRESS

Persichetti, Vincent: Twentieth-Century Harmony, Creative Aspects and Practice. W. W. Norton & Company INC. New York © 1961. 

Partch, Harry. The Genesis of Music. 2nd edition. Da Capo press. New York, 1974

Ulehla, Ludmila. Contemporary Harmony. Advance Music. New York. 1995.

Tymoczko, Dmitri. A Geometry of Music : Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice (Oxford studies in music theory).  Oxford University Press, Inc. © 2011

João MacDowell – IBOC Artistic Director – I will be teaching the course.

“a new thinker in the genre” (Johanna Paulsson, Dagens Nyheter)

The Brazilian composer has a career that spans from punk to opera. João MacDowell had his first Symphony premiered by the National Orchestra of Brasilia and is the author of five operas, including Tamanduá (Boston Metropolitan Opera Award), Plastic Flowers, and The Seventh Seal with libretto by Ingmar Bergman. Awarded twice with Ingmar Bergman Estate residencies, the closing act for the opening ceremony for the Bergman Centennial, Fårö 2018. The Seventh Seal opera concert premiered in Stockholm’s Modern Art Museum (Moderna) and in Sao Paulo, with the Tatuí Conservatory. Since 2013, MacDowell has served as Artistic Director for the International Brazilian Opera Company. Performances include programs with the New York Opera Alliance and the Metropolitan Opera NY. Other works include chamber, electronic, choral, soundtrack, and song.

Sam Machado – Pianist

Born in Aracaju-SE, he began his music studies at the age of 8. He studied piano at the Sergipe Music Conservatory, where he was a professor Clese Noemia Mangueira (UFBA) student. he took a Masterclass with professor Dr. Carlos Yansen (UNICAMP). Simone Leitão, Tadeu Duarte. In 2015, he took piano lessons as a special student at UFS with Prof. Dr. Eduardo Garcia (The University Of Arizona-USA). In 2017, he entered the bachelor’s degree in Piano performance at the State University of Santa Catarina-UDESC, took classes with Prof. Dr. Maria Bernardete Castelan Póvoas, and was also a fellow (IC) for her interdisciplinary research on performance, technique, and pianistic interpretation related to arguments in areas that deal with human movement. He also had guidance from Prof. Dr. Maurício Zamith, Prof. GUILHERME ANTONIO SAUERBRONN DE BARROS (Currently an IC Fellow in Musical Analysis), currently has piano instruction with Prof. Dr Thaís Nicolau Lopes.
Sam has stood out on the chamber music scene and also as a soloist in academic recitals. He collaborates as an accompanist and co-repeater with singers and instrumentalists from different musical styles and styles.

Suggested Schedule

(Actual activities may be adapted according to students’ interests)

Class 1: 

  • Panorama of Contemporary Composition.
  • Multiculturalism.
  • Expanding vocabulary.
  • A universe of possibilities, embracing popular and erudite techniques.
  • Example: “The Seventh Seal” Overture – Prophecies. (Joao MacDowell)
  • Course opening, an example of sophisticated and intelligible harmonic structure.
  • Complexity and Sophistication (what’s the difference?)
  • Persiketi – 20 Century Harmony – Everything is allowed. There are no more rules.
  • Alan Forte: Rationalizing Interval Space.
  • Mapping the territory:

Sounds without defined note – Modalism – Tonalism – Polymodalism – Polytonalism – Atonalism.

Workshop Composition Proposal

Discussion of the proposed workshop composition.

Class 2: 

Materials: Poly-Harmony

  • Tuning systems. Primordial consonances and practical levels of complexity and structuring.
  • The cycle of alternating thirds, overlapping triads, and chords generating scales. Mega Modes,
  • Scales of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 notes. Pitch Class, octave equivalence, or non-equivalence,
  • Timbre and register distinctions. 4-voice matrices, 6, 9, 12-voice matrices. Counterpoint: Melodic characteristics of intervals: Mondays and Tuesdays – Wednesdays and Thursdays. Complexity available in the 12-height system. Specificities of structures with different numbers of notes per set. The Geometries of Music: from Neo-Riemannianism to Dimitri Tymoczko. Generating chords and scales in computer systems derived from the I Ching.

Class 3: 

  • Poly-Harmony – Continuation
  • Form: From simple to complex.
  • Circular Modal, Binary, Ternary, Free (fantasy), Quaternary, Song forms, Stanza and Chorus, Rondo, Sonata, Extending time: “From the string of pearls to the great arched structures”, the Matrioska-Sonata. Structuring long-term works: Planning and execution, creative freedom and related musical discourse. Strategies from Mozart to Ligeti: From 2 to 12 voices.
  • Reading and discussion of the compositions of the participants.

Class 4: 

  • Communication and Intelligibility:
  • Anticipation and Surprise. Simplicity and Complexity, Repetition and Variation. The familiar and the unusual. Monoculture and Polyculture. Structuring long-lasting works: Planning and execution, creative freedom, and coherent and integrated musical discourse.
  • Reading and discussion of compositions by the students
  • Final review for recording.
  • Form: Structuring long-term works.
  • Planning and execution, creative freedom, and coherent and integrated musical disc
  • Form: from song to opera
  • Long-lasting forms: Structures:  “String of Pearls,” “Arch,” “Matrioska Sonata.”
  • Poly-Harmony: Pentachords, Polychords. Overlays, layers and registers: tension and resolution.
  • Modal structures based on I Ching’s trigrams and hexagrams

Class 5:

  • Final Review of Composer’s Music
  • Reading and discussion of the compositions of the participants.
  • Evaluation of elements of notation and practicality of execution.
  • Recording of Music.
  • Session dedicated to documenting videos with student compositions.
  • Studio Strategies: 30 min: organization of musicians, microphone alignment
  • 3 hours and 30 minutes of recording: Each composer will have 15-20 minutes to read and record his composition. Time must be divided equally between course composers. The result of the recording depends on excellence in creating the score and on optimizing the time available with the musicians.