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Lisa has been awarded a 2018 Barlow Commission to compose a 15-minute suite of Symphonic Jazz Etudes for concert pianist Scott Holden.

Lisa is also the recipient of a "Golden Spike Commission" from Utah Opera. Together with librettist Rachel Peters, they will create a chamber opera to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

In June of 2018, the pianist Scott Holden premiered Lisa's first solo piano work, "Toccata No. 1 for Jazz Piano" at Carnegie Hall. The music is now available on iTunes and 

Meet Lisa at the OPERA American Conference in St. Louis, June 20-24 and find out more about THAT HELL-BOUND TRAIN.


Lisa DeSpain is a New York City based composer of musical theatre, opera, and concert works known for her American sound.

She is the recipient of a 2018 Discovery Grant from OPERA America in support of her first opera, THAT HELL-BOUND TRAIN. Lisa was also a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow and writer-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neil Musical Theatre Center for her original musical STORYVILLE created with Oscar Award-winning lyricist, Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

In 2003, Ms DeSpain was awarded a Copland House Residency which profoundly impacted her artistic mission. Inspired by Copland's legacy, Ms. DeSpain strives to explore and expand the boundaries of the American musical language, to create artistic works uniquely identifiable as American.

Lisa has created commissions for a wide range of ensembles including The United States Air Force Band of Flight, Cassatt String Quartet, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, New York Choral SocietyNew Haven Symphony Orcherchestra, and the womens choir Bella Voce.

Composing for dance, Lisa collaborated with Memphis-born choreographer Donlin Foreman (Buglisi-Foreman Dance,) creating a tryptic of blues influenced dance score; Mean Ole' World, Rise & Fall , and Song with premieres at the New Victory Theatre (NYC), Joyce Theatre (NYC) and Jacobs Pillow.  

A force in the musical theatre education world, Lisa is a Professor at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) and the go-to arranger for Broadway educational choral works including HAMILTON, ONCE, AMERICAN IDIOT, NEXT TO NORMAL and more.

Lisa's numerous awards include the ASCAP/IAJE Commission Honoring the Duke Ellington Centennial, three American Composers Forum Continental Harmony Commissions, an NEA Jazz Fellowship (in jazz piano), American Music Center Live Music for Dance, and a Barlow Endowment Award.