Graduate composition students receive American Academy of Arts and Letters awards

Jack Hughes and David "Clay" Mettens
February 24, 2020

Composers Jack Hughes and David “Clay” Mettens, PhD candidates in the Department of Music, have both been awarded Charles Ives Scholarships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The award, established in 1970 through a bequest from Harmony Ives, the widow of the late composer, provides six $7,500 scholarships and two $15,000 fellowships to composers for continued study in composition.

Jack Hughes came to the University of Chicago in 2014, studying composition with Augusta Read Thomas and Shulamit Ran and music theory and analysis with Lawrence Zbikowski and Anthony Cheung. Before the University of Chicago, Hughes received his Bachelor of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, studying composition with Keith Fitch.

Hughes has been the recipient of numerous awards and commissions including a 2019 Underwood Commission from the American Composer’s Orchestra in New York City. He was a 2016 winner and 2017 and 2019 finalist for the BMI Student Composer Awards, and he was a 2018 finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award. His music has been performed by the Grossman Ensemble, Imani Winds, ~Nois Saxophone Quartet, Quatuor Bozzini, and Quince vocal ensemble.

In consideration for the Charles Ives Scholarship, both composers submitted two recent works from their portfolios. Hughes submitted like a strange sigh, a choral work composed for the Volti choir (San Francisco) in 2017, and Dream Labyrinths, written for the CCCC’s Grossman Ensemble in winter 2019. like a strange sigh was written while Hughes was a young composer fellow for Volti, and it was inspired by a poem, called “The Moonflowers,” that Hughes happened to pick up while wandering the stacks of Regenstein Library. Dream Labyrinths, as the title suggests, was inspired by the flow and logic of dreams. “While dreaming we implicitly accept everything that is happening to us. It is only upon waking that we recognize the strangeness of the dreamworld, already a fading memory,” says Hughes. “I tried to capture this in my piece by having sounds constantly melt into one another to create a hazy and nebulous texture.”

David “Clay” Mettens came to the University in 2015 following a masters degree from the Eastman School of Music and an undergraduate degree in composition and clarinet performance from the University of South Carolina. He studies with Anthony Cheung, Sam Pluta, and Augusta Read Thomas.

Recognitions of Mettens’ work include a commission from the American Opera Initiative and selection of his piece “Sleeping I am carried...” by the Underwood New Music Readings and the 2015 [‘tactus] Young Composers Forum with the Brussels Philharmonic. Other awards include the 2018 Heckscher Foundation Composition Prize, the 2018 Salvatore Martirano Composition Competition first prize, and a 2016 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award. His music has been performed around the world by ensembles including the Brussels Philharmonic, L’orchestra philharmonique de Radio France, the Tonkünstler Orchestra, Spektral Quartet, and Yarn/Wire.

Mettens’ submissions for the Charles Ives Scholarship included his work Gilded Scenes, written for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and Un-Masqued, composed for the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Wind Ensemble. Un-Masqued was a commission to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In his program note for the piece, Mettens notes that even amidst recent achievements for LGBTQ equality and representation, the queer community contends with a level of precarity. The piece “begins as a party,” says Mettens, but one-by-one, small groups of instruments refuse to conform. These groups slowly “unmask” themselves before gradually regrouping into a multicolored collage that celebrates their unique identities.

Jack Hughes’ music is available online at More information about David “Clay” Mettens is available at