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In Tune

  • Judith Shatin: Roaming the Universe of Sound

    Judith Shatin

    This month we got to know Judith Shatin, composer, sound artist, community arts partner, and educator. Her music, called “something magical” by Fanfare, reflects her fascination with the arts, the sounding world, and the communicative power of music. Known for her dramatic acoustic music, she has also created a large body of path-breaking electroacoustic music. We asked her about those intersections of acoustic and electroacoustic music, and more.

    In an interview with NewMusicBox a few years ago, you spoke about studying abroad in Jerusalem, and how upon your return, you organized a composition recital rather than a typical piano recital, and how this encouraged you on your path as a composer. Did you waver following that, or were you a composer from that moment on?

    Following my return from Jerusalem for my senior year at Douglass College, I studied with the outstanding composer Robert Moevs at Rutgers College. If anything, I became even more enthralled with composition, and this led to my quest to present a senior composition recital, rather than the piano recital that was expected of me. After managing that, I never wavered in my decision to follow this path.

    You have a background and are active in computer and electronic music—you’re the founder of the Virginia Center for Computer Music at the University of Virginia. At ECS we know you as a composer of choral and vocal music. Historically these two areas don’t often go together...what do you think about that? What draws you to both?

    It’s true that choral music has not traditionally drawn composers who are engaged with digital media. However, I have personally never made any distinction between these domains. I compose for both individually, and love combining them as well. My Beetles, Monsters and Roses, for treble chorus and electronics, commissioned by the San Francisco Girls’ Chorus, was the first electroacoustic piece they performed.

    I have composed numerous acoustic choral pieces. Most recent is ‘Tis You, a setting of the beautiful poem Listening by Amy Lowell. Commissioned and premiered by the Voorhees Choir at Douglass College, my alma mater, for their Centennial, it is scored for SSA, string quartet and piano, though there is also a version for SSA and Piano. And this season, Illinois Wesleyan University, directed by Scott Ferguson, has commissioned a piece for unaccompanied SATB chorus in its ongoing choral commissioning series.

    Do you have a favorite medium to write for?

    I really don’t have a favorite medium—I love roaming around the universe of sound and what I compose just depends on the situation. My most recent piece is Ice Becomes Water, for string orchestra and electronics that I fashioned from field recordings shared by glaciologist Oskar Glowacki. This one was commissioned and just premiered by the terrific San Jose Chamber Orchestra. I chose this topic out of my concern over climate change, and a desire to join help raise awareness about it. While I don’t have a favorite medium, one of my favorite aspects of composing is collaborating with performers, and especially those who have an exploratory approach.

    Computers and composition are both fields in which women are minorities. What has your experience been like from that perspective?

    There have certainly been challenges being a women composer as well as one active in electronic media. However, I’m a determined person, and have just kept going no matter the headwinds. I have also been an advocate for contemporary composers through my service as President of American Women Composers, former board member of the League/ISCM and American Composers Alliance, and as current board member of the International Alliance for Women in Music and the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

    When do you feel most inspired to compose? What’s your compositional process like once you’re inspired?

    I don’t have an easy answer to that question. Ideas come both bidden and unbidden. What I can say is that the more involved I am in a project, the more quickly ideas come, and the more inspired I feel.

    As to process—it is a blend of conscious and unconscious. I typically start with a clear overall shape and clarity about the structural pillars. However, I am often surprised along the way. I also work through many drafts, and the process is an intricate one. It’s difficult to define one’s style, but I would say that my music is guided by underlying harmonic motion, hidden and interrupted as it sometimes is. Again, this differs considerably from piece to piece.

    You’re a very active teacher, both at the University of Virginia and at festivals and conferences. What’s your favorite topic to teach?

    Teaching is fascinating in so many ways. I enjoy the exchange of ideas, the liveliness of it all, the ‘aha’ moments that both my students and I often have. And I very much enjoy meeting students in different contexts—I have worked with very advanced students at a variety of festivals and schools, and also with some very young children, especially while involved in a project called Preserving the Rural Soundscape, which ultimately led to my Singing the Blue Ridge, for mezzo, baritone, orchestra, and electronics made from indigenous wild animal calls.

    As to favorite topics to teach—composition! But my very favorite is teaching composition as response to a particular area. For instance, one of my seminars was called Parsing the Electroacoustic, and the students read widely about perception of electroacoustic composition, as well as composing pieces in response to these readings and discussions. I also established a choral composition course at the University of Virginia. It seemed to me that this should be taught as a topic in its own right, and that is all too rare.

    How do you spend your time when you’re not engaged in musical activities?

    My time when not spent on composing has until now been taken up with teaching and the administrative work that goes along with it, though my husband (cognitive psychologist Michael Kubovy) and I always have made time for family and friends. We have also had the good fortune to team-teach ‘Psychology of Music’ and ‘The Mind of the Artist.’

    Any exciting projects on the horizon?

    I am just now stepping down from my regular teaching position at the University of Virginia to focus more exclusively on composing and other music-making activities. I am looking forward to having the time to devote to some larger projects that have been percolating for a while. First, though, in addition to the choral piece mentioned above, I have just started on a commission for mezzo and piano. My work often goes like this, jumping among  a wide variety of media. In whatever domain, it is always an exciting journey.

    Recent choral performances include Songs of War and Peace by the Southampton Choral Society, who performed it on their WWI Commemoration concert. It is a setting of four powerful poems on the topic, and is scored for SATB + piano or chamber orchestra.

     

    See a list of Shatin's works published by
    E. C. Schirmer here.

     

  • Michael Ching on Conducting Buoso's Ghost at OperaDelaware

    Next month OperaDelaware and Baltimore Concert Opera are going to do productions of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and my 1996 sequel, Buoso’s Ghost. Our works are like children—it’s best when they grow up and leave the house. (Unfortunately, some stick around on the shelf and don’t pay their fair share of the rent) I’ve been lucky about Buoso. It’s been fairly popular, with performances over the years at places like Pittsburgh Opera Center, Opera Memphis, Indianapolis Opera, Saratoga Opera and more recently at New Jersey Opera and SUNY—Potsdam.

    Buoso's Ghost Piano/Vocal Score

    I’ve been asked to conduct the Schicchi / Buoso double bill and, to keep with the metaphor of our older works as our grown-up children, I find things that I wish I had done differently with their upbringing. Frankly, now in 2018 I have to get to know Buoso in the same way I have to get to know Schicchi, to study the beat patterns, dramatic flow, orchestration, and vocal challenges that will be part of the rehearsal process. It’s a bit of an ethical obligation to get it right as performers and audience members will assume that your word on the piece is definitive. Someday, somebody in the OperaDelaware cast will say “I remember when Ching did it this way…” and that will seem like wisdom of the ages.

    Here’s a piece of composerly business advice I’d give which goes back to the history of Buoso. The advice is: “Get it in writing.” Once when I was running Opera Memphis, I got permission to produce an adaptation of a famous author’s work, only to have the rights bought out from under me by a film company. This was twenty years ago and to this day, a film based on this important American novel has not come out. I had a similar case as a composer—I started work on a project with assurances from the opera company and the author’s agent that everything was great, only to have the agent change and the verbal permission was immediately revoked.

    Back to Buoso’s Ghost. It was originally workshopped at the Chautauqua Opera. The assumption all along was that the work would go on to be premiered there. But the administration—which had been there for years—changed, and all of a sudden, it was somebody else’s project. Like a couch belonging to an evicted tenant, Buoso got put out on the curb. So, even if you’ve got friends and assurances, the advice is, get it in writing or you might not get it at all.

    I promise to follow this up next month with pictures and a report from rehearsals at OperaDelaware.

    In the meantime, here’s a little teaser I did for OperaDelaware for a season announcement. My cat, BINGO, was annoyed.

    Buoso’s Ghost is being performed at OperaDelaware on April 29 and May 5 and at Baltimore Concert Opera April 13 and 15. It is also playing at University of Central Florida April 13 and 14. In addition to being a composer, Michael Ching is an opera consultant at E.C.Schirmer and can be reached at MrBillow [at] gmail [dot] com.

    Michael Ching

     

  • When the Spirit Sings: Chamber Music of Gwyneth Walker

    This month our featured recording is When the Spirit Sings: Chamber Music of Gwyneth Walker from Musica Harmonia.

    This release features the works of Gywneth Walker, one of the most important composers of our modern day. Widely performed throughout the world, the music of Gwyneth Walker is beloved by performers and audiences alike for its energy, beauty, reverence, drama and humor. Dr. Walker is a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music. Walker's catalog includes over 300 commissioned works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, chorus, and solo voice. [ArkivMusic]

    Tracks include:
    1. When the Spirit Sings
    2. Letters to the World
    3. The Peacemakers
    4. A Vision of Hills
    5. A Cup of Rejoicing

    Listen to the full album below.

  • The Inside Voice: Michael John Trotta Interview Series

    We were so excited to find out that J. W. Pepper created a short video series on composer Michael John Trotta. Trotta has been a MorningStar composer for several years, and more recently has come out with pieces more suited to the Galaxy catalog. This spring, we're releasing his new work For a Breath of Ecstasy, heard throughout the video series.

    Growing up in a musical family, Michael John Trotta was immersed in music from a very young age. As a child, he was in awe of the amazing musicians around him, but he always thought that musical talent was something some people just had. In this interview, Trotta talks about how he went from thinking music was out of reach for him to becoming one of the preeminent young composers in the world.

    Watch the complete series below.

  • Request a New Music Reading Session

    Reading sessions are one of our favorite ways to interact with music directors and musicians. Choral reading sessions are an engaging event requiring active participation from the attendees, who in turn get to experience a lot of music in a short amount of time. Similarly, organ or instrumental sessions can offer exposure to new music in a more casual environment than a service or recital.

    MorningStar has been actively involved in providing reading sessions since its founding in the 1980s. In particular, there's been a strong tie between MorningStar and NPM, and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate and help with chapter meetings in several ways.

    1. Drop us an email requesting some sample music for a quick read through at an upcoming chapter meeting. This can provide some access to new resources without devoting an entire meeting to a reading session. Simply let us know how many copies you need for a single copy for each director, and we will be glad to assist you.
    2. Provide a complete evening meeting devoted to new literature. These sessions can be particularly effective when you mix in some piano, organ, or instrumental music. The sessions can be focused on particular seasons, or can be general in nature. They can also include music of varied difficulties. Many chapters have spread the leadership of these sessions up among chapter members to get more people involved, and others have even asked a local choir to participate by singing some selections from their repertoire. Other chapters have created unique organ and piano reading sessions by receiving new music from us and then dividing pieces up between chapter members to perform. It is a quick way to insure member involvement and to discover new publications.
    3. Contact us about having a MorningStar representative at your session. We'll be glad to work with you to try and find just the right clinician for your situation.

    If you'd like more information about possibilities, please email us!

  • James Biery Interview | Featured Sacred Composer

    James Biery
    How did you first become involved with music, and what drew you to composition?

    I was fascinated by music from an early age, starting piano lessons at age seven and then organ at eleven. As a teenager, I discovered that full-time church music was a career option, and from that moment there was no turning back! As an organ student at Northwestern University, I was almost entirely focused on performance. It was only later after I started work as a church musician that I began to write music of my own. It was a way to come up with music that was needed for particular occasions. Those first pieces were mostly shorter choral pieces. The organ music came later.

    What is your compositional process like? Do you wait until everything is clear in your head, then write it down, or do you start writing and see where it takes you?

    The processes for choral/vocal music and instrumental music are different. For music that will be sung, it starts with the text. I can think of one instance when I wrote a tune first, and then asked my wife Marilyn for a text for it, but almost always it’s a situation where the words come first, and the music is written to accommodate the accents of the words and to illustrate the meaning. For

    Elegy

    instrumental pieces that are based on existing tunes, I like to find a germ of a motive within the tune that can be expanded or shaped into something new to work with.

    Often I will take off in two different directions and then see which one works better. So a lot of music is tossed aside.

    Commissions are great, too, because they encourage composers to set texts or tunes that they might not have chosen otherwise. I will always be grateful to Dusty Johnson and Pamela Decker in Tucson for commissioning my Elegy for organ, which is one of my most successful organ pieces.

    What is your favorite medium to write for? What draws you to that?

    I’m not sure I have a favorite medium. What I most enjoy is whatever I am currently working on! Choral music offers the satisfaction of bringing words to life—the power of musical settings is the ability to explore the emotional impact of a text. “Love Never Ends” is a great example of a piece that brings deeper meaning and emotional impact to a familiar scripture text. And “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”  provided an opportunity to add some dramatic feeling to a familiar hymn-text by highlighting the words of Jesus.

    Love Never Ends
    I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    But keyboard music has the advantage of greater freedom of melodic range. Melodies can skip about and go beyond the limitations of a singer’s range. Music for instrumental ensembles is very rewarding, too. The notation software programs that composers have at their disposal are quite remarkable in their ability to play back instrumental sounds with a fair amount of realism. But the music always sounds so much better when you have good musicians playing the music live!

    What sorts of new projects do you have in the works?

    Currently I am reworking the Maundy Thursday chancel opera that I wrote for Holy Week of 2017. We are presenting the work at my church again this year, and it’s an opportunity to clean up some details of instrumentation. The piece is called “Journey to Jerusalem,” and it is a 60 minute piece for a small ensemble of actor/singers, chorus, instrumental ensemble, and clergy. There are three sections, each separated by a spoken prayer and time of silence. The first part portrays the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, and then the gathering around the table in the upper room with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. The second part begins with an anguished aria that Judas sings, followed by a reenactment of the Last Supper. This part concludes with the congregation receiving communion. The final portion of the work is set in the Garden of Gethsemane.

    What are you up to when you’re not composing or performing?

    I’m currently very excited about piano playing. I had continued my piano study through high school, but largely dropped the instrument after I went to college. Last year, we were fortunate enough to acquire a newly-rebuilt 1930 Steinway model A, and the beauty and responsiveness of this instrument has been a revelation. I also very much enjoy doing various projects around the house.

    View all of James Biery's music published by MorningStar here.


    James Biery (born 1956) is an American organist who is Minister of Music at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. He was Director of Music at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota from 1996-2010. Biery was featured regularly as a performer on the Cathedral's monthly concerts. He and his wife, Marilyn, shared the organ and conducting duties at the Cathedral. Before moving to Minnesota, James Biery was Director of Music at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut, where he performed often on the 140 rank Austin organ.

    Biery was educated at Northwestern University, where he earned Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Organ Performance. Mr. Biery also holds the Choirmaster and Fellowship Certificates of the AGO. In 2006, 2007, 2008 James Biery was awarded the ASCAP Plus award for his compositions. In 1986, he was the prize-winner for the highest score on the FAGO exam administered by the American Guild of Organists. The winner of several organ competitions, he was named Second Prize Winner in the 1980 AGO National Open Competition in Organ Playing.

    Biery developed his compositional skills from two disciplines: years of study of the organ and its literature and intense scrutiny of the orchestral scores of numerous composers whose music he transcribed for organ duet and organ solo. As an organist, Biery has distinguished himself by performing much of the repertoire of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His facility at the organ combined with his demonstrated ability to perform and study a vast amount of literature has given Biery a firm basis upon which to compose for the instrument. His organ and choral compositions are published by MorningStar Music Publishers, Concordia, Augsburg-Fortress, GIA, and Oregon Catholic Press. He has recorded for AFKA and Naxos.

  • Composing Opera is an Addiction: Interview with Tom Cipullo

    Tom Cipullo joined the E. C. Schirmer catalog in 2017. As one of America's most performed contemporary opera composers, we wanted to find out more about what makes him tick and the journey he's on.

    How did you first become involved with music, and what drew you to composition?

    I was lucky enough to be born into a musical family. My father, a jazz bassist, performed in post-war New York in every imaginable venue, and my older brother (who eventually became a rock drummer) and I were exposed to a large dose of listening as well as to live performance. Musicians were always in our home, sometimes for extended stays on our rather small living room couch. Whatever indiscretion landed them in that uncomfortable spot, they were a welcome and exciting resource for me, and their talk of songs, pianists, and bassists with “nice lines” fueled my imagination and inspired me.

    I'm not sure what drew me to composition specifically. As far back as I can remember, I was always interested in the great composers of the past—in their lives and in their works.

    What is your compositional process like? Do you wait until everything is clear in your head, then write it down, or do you start writing and see where it takes you?

    Much of what I do it intuitive. And composing is different for me every time I sit down to do it. In general terms though, I'm always trying to create what Copland called " the illusion of inevitability;” the feeling that a piece of music must exist in its present form and would not be complete or right any other way. In my work, I seek always to add a feeling of surprise to that illusion of inevitability. At first glance, inevitability and surprise may seem incongruous, but their coupling will carry a listener along to a satisfactory and involving conclusion.

    We know you primarily as an opera and vocal composer. What do you most enjoy about the voice as a medium? What other genres do you enjoy composing for?

    Frequently, it seems, Italian-American composers are drawn to writing for the voice, and I have not been an exception. This natural inclination, coupled with my lifelong interest in poetry and literature, and fortified, luckily, by a steady stream of commissions, has pushed me to create a large body of songs and vocal chamber works. I enjoy writing every type of music—though composing opera is an addiction.

    Both Glory Denied and After Life take their roots in war. What are your hopes for how an audience member receives these stories? What is the most surprising feedback you’ve gotten on either work so far?

    With Glory Denied, I would like a listener—particularly a younger listener—to have a sense of that era; of its controversies, its passions, and how that time continues to shape our country today. After Life is much different.  That's a piece that is more interested in raising questions than giving answers. What is the role of art and artists in a troubled world? How often does the egotism of the artist blind one to the very humanity they seek to reveal? I've been fortunate to experience some very positive and deeply personal feedback, particularly about Glory Denied. But the most moving and surprising reactions I choose to keep to myself for the present.

    What sorts of new projects do you have in the works?

    Right now, I'm working on a piece called Mayo. It's a full-length grand opera and unlike anything I've done before. I've written the libretto as well as the music, and it is based on the life of a real person, Mayo Buckner. Much of the opera takes place at the Iowa Home for Feeble-Minded Children (a place that actually existed in the first decades of the 20th-century), and the work explores America's interest in the eugenics movement. Even Oliver Wendell Holmes appears as a character! Mayo is the recipient of the Domnnic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize from the Crane School of Music/State University of New York at Potsdam, and the premiere is this November!

    I'm also working a new chamber opera with a libretto by David Mason. Based on the tragic life of Hungarian poet Miklos Radnóti, the piece is commissioned by Music of Remembrance (the organization which also commissioned After Life). It will premiere in Seattle in May 2019.

    What are you up to when you’re not composing?

    Well, I'm the father of a six-year-old daughter.  So when I'm not composing, I'm either busy savoring that experience—or alternatively, savoring the lovely experience of sleeping.


    Tom Cipullo

    Hailed by the American Academy of Art & Letters for music of “inexhaustible imagination, wit, expressive range and originality,” composer Tom Cipullo is the winner of the 2016 Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize from SUNY/Potsdam, a Guggenheim Fellowship (2012), the Arts & Letters Award from the American Academy (2013), and the Sylvia Goldstein Award from Copland House (2013). Mr. Cipullo has received commissions from dozens of performing ensembles and singers, and he has received fellowships and awards from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Liguria Study Center (Italy), the Fundacion Valparaiso (Spain), and the Oberpfaelzer Kuenstlerhaus (Bavaria). The New York Times has called his music “intriguing and unconventional,” and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has called him “an expert in writing for the voice.” Cipullo’s music is recorded on the Naxos, Albany, CRI, PGM, MSR, GPR, Centaur, and Capstone labels.

    Cipullo has composed orchestral works, solo piano pieces, and a vast quantity of vocal music, including over 200 songs and several vocal chamber works. His song cycle Of a Certain Age won the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Art Song Award in 2008. Cipullo’s first opera, Glory Denied, has enjoyed numerous productions, and the Fort Worth Opera recording on Albany Records was cited by Opera News as among the best of 2014. Reviewers have hailed the work as “terrifically powerful… superbly written” (Fanfare), praising its “luminous score (Washington Post),” and noting “the dramatic tension was relentless (Opera News).” Cipullo’s second opera, After Life (libretto by David Mason), has been called “a finely wrought exploration of the role of art in times of grave crisis ( Washington Post)” and “unfailingly inventive (Opera News ).” Recorded on the Naxos label, After Life is the winner of the 2017 the Domenick Argento Chamber Opera Composition prize from the National Opera Association.

    Mr. Cipullo received his Master’s degree in composition from Boston University and his B.S. from Hofstra University, Phi Beta Kappa with highest honors in music.

  • Responsorial Psalm Singing with the Five Graces Psalter

    Guest post by Kelly Dobbs-Mickus

    MorningStar has recently published a new volume of Responsorial Psalms for the 3-year Lectionary cycle by Luke Mayernik. In this series, we will explore the practice of responsorial psalm singing using the Five Graces Psalter for reference, in the context of Roman Catholic liturgy, while acknowledging that other traditions also use responsorial forms. Whether singing/playing responsorial psalms is new for you, or whether you are experienced, we believe these reflections will contribute to this aspect of your ministry.

    This first part of the post considers the responsorial psalm in its liturgical context and then moves to the art of singing and accompanying psalm refrains. It assumes a “regular” parish setting while acknowledging that all worship situations are not identical.

    The responsorial psalm is one of the Scripture readings in the Liturgy of the Word and therefore has an elevated place in the liturgy. The cantor or soloist (called psalmist from here) is the proclaimer, and therefore the communication of the text is his/her most important task. As musicians, we tend to be more concerned with the music than making sure the text is understood, but this clear communication of Scripture is a skill that must be practiced and continually developed by psalmists.

    The psalmist sets the emotional tone of the psalm, and should possess an understanding of this particular part of the story of salvation and how it relates to the other Scripture readings. An excellent resource for psalm spirituality is Sr. Kathleen Harmon’s book Becoming the Psalms: A Spirituality of Singing and Praying the Psalms, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2015. Preparation of the psalm must not be solely an exterior one; it is the psalmist’s privilege and responsibility to pray the psalms.

    Accompanists also have a responsibility to prepare each psalm setting prayerfully. Decide which keyboard instrument fits the particular refrain, assuming there are equally viable options. The refrain accompaniments found in The Five Graces Psalter are quite flexible; even those that appear to be pianistic can be quite successful on the organ (the example included here is such a refrain), and vice versa. Pianists should consider options for volume and articulation, and organists should decide what stops will be most appropriate, etc. Guitar chord symbols are provided; adding guitar to refrains and/or verses adds richness to the texture. Guitar would be a sufficient accompaniment for verses in some situations.

    The refrain melody is usually introduced by a keyboardist, with or without a solo instrumentalist. Playing the refrain accompaniment as written is a possibility, but other options are more helpful for the assembly. The keyboardist might play the melody only, perhaps in octaves. Another option is to “solo out” the melody, perhaps in a higher octave for piano, or on a solo stop for organ. This important skill for organists is most commonly done this way: Play the melody in the right hand, pair the alto and tenor voice in the left hand, and assign the bass line to the pedals. Here is the refrain for Palm Sunday, shown first as it appears in the Five Graces Psalter and then as a solo melody version.

    A pianist has the ability to play the melody more loudly so that it is heard above the texture of the other voices. Having a solo instrument play the melody is very effective, with or without accompaniment. All of these options can be tailored to fit the tone of the psalm and/or the liturgical season or feast; in general, it makes sense to use simpler approaches for seasons such as Advent and Lent and more elaborate ones for seasons such as Christmas and Easter.

    Establish a steady tempo in the introduction, and maintain it for the psalmist’s intonation and assembly response, being careful to rehearse the transitions among those repetitions, as well as the transitions between verses and refrains. There are several ways to handle these transitions—not necessarily one “right” way—but consistency and rehearsal are necessary for confident assembly participation.

    When the psalmist sings the first refrain, there are several things to remember. Here’s a good way to think about what is happening in this liturgical moment: As part of prayerfully proclaiming this Scripture, the psalmist is modeling the best way for the assembly—a group of untrained singers—to sing this particular refrain, thereby enabling their prayerful participation.

    • The notes should be clear and in tune, and the tempo should be steady.
    • Breathe when you believe they will need to breathe.
    • Be musical, because a musical “performance” will engage the assembly. Follow the contour and expression of the musical line, emphasize/de-emphasize certain notes, etc. In other words, allow the music to be an effective vehicle for the particular text.
    • Avoid affectations in your tone (e.g., too much vibrato) and pronunciation (e.g., rolled Rs, or a “British” style) so that the assembly will feel comfortable imitating you.
    • Enunciate each syllable. Imagine that the assembly does not have visual access to the words.
    • Microphones are not a substitute for a supported vocal production; if you have a big voice, move back a bit. Rehearse with the microphone, and record your rehearsal for an objective perspective.

    The accompanist plays two different roles in the responsorial psalm: accompanying the cantor and leading the assembly. S/he needs to support but not overpower the psalmist, taking a back seat especially during the verses to allow the words of the psalm to be primary. S/he needs to lead the assembly in singing each refrain with correct notes, steady tempo, clear breaths, and appropriate volume. It can be helpful for accompanists to give more prominence to the refrain melody—as described above—until the assembly becomes confident.

    The psalmist should allow the keyboardist to be the leader for the assembly refrains. It may be necessary for him/her to help the assembly on the first repetition or two, but it is ideal for him/her to not sing with the assembly unless they are in need of his/her vocal support. When the assembly is singing confidently, an amplified voice singing over them is not only redundant—it sends the wrong message.

    The liturgical primacy of the responsorial psalm demands careful preparation. The next part in this series will explore psalm-tone verses, including the choral options possible for The Five Graces Psalter.

    Visit our website for more information on The Five Graces Psalter, especially the options for both print and downloadable versions.

  • Meet the Editor: Interview with Stanley Hoffman

    As of February 23, 2018, Stanley M. Hoffman will have been Editor at ECS for a full twenty years! We spent some time getting to know him and his experience working in this field for two decades.

    How did you end up at ECS?

    From 1990 to 1998, I worked as Editor at Scores International, a Boston-based music engraving company that is now defunct. We served world class composers, commissioning music organizations, and music publishing companies. ECS Publishing was one of our main customers; I helped to establish the ECS house style. In 1997, I decided that it was time for me to seek a new challenge, so I asked Robert Schuneman, the owner of ECS Publishing at the time, if he could use a full-time editor. Six months later, on February 23, 1998, I began working at ECS Publishing, which has since grown to become ECS Publishing Group.

    Tell us about what you do as an editor.

    My primary role is to evaluate submissions for publication as part of our Editorial Committee. For the titles we agree to accept, I take composers’ and arrangers’ music from manuscript to press. This involves sending rounds of proofs to writers until they sign-off on my editorial work. Today, a manuscript can mean anything from photocopies of handwritten music to computer files engraved using music typesetting software such as Sibelius and Finale. Usually, I receive music files to which I apply our house style and industry standard notation to generate publishable quality editions. My other duties include writing music publishing agreements and negotiating agreements for copyrighted texts and tunes.

    What are the most challenging things about this role? How about the most rewarding things?

    Turning away submissions is not always an easy thing to do, and one must always handle it tactfully. The most rewarding things are helping to launch composers’ careers, watching their catalogs grow, and getting to know them as a professional and an individual. Most composers are grateful for the editorial service I provide with respect to speed, accuracy, and aesthetic value. I also enjoy watching finished editions get launched into the world and seeing how they fare.

     How has the company and industry changed since you started?

    When I began as Editor, the DOS program Score was the music program of choice, and it ran on Windows 98! (IMHO, the look of Score has never been topped. However, it is anything but user friendly.) The process of creating a publishable edition was painstakingly slow back then. My productivity is much greater now. In the late '90s and early '00s, I mostly received handwritten music or Finale files, as Sibelius was just beginning to come into its own as a viable music program for music publishers. That program has come a long way since those days. Now, I usually use the music files I receive from our writers.

    The online economy and digital publishing have caused a seismic shift in the music publishing industry. Some music publishing houses have either gone out of business or have been purchased by larger companies. The same is true of music distributors. The market for compact discs shrunk drastically as download-based and streaming services took control of the audio market. This affected how we worked with our record label, Arsis. I consider myself blessed to be working as part of a great team and especially for Mark Lawson, who is keeping the company healthy and nimble, and is thoughtfully and rapidly taking it in directions I had only dreamed of previously.

    You are also a composer and arranger. How has working at ECS influenced your artistic work?

    When I started, I was writing esoteric works that received few performances outside of the graduate school music programs for which I wrote them. Within the first two years of becoming Editor at this company, I learned what kind of music the serious music consuming public desired and, to my delight, a sizable segment of it then and now still values quality, both in terms of craftsmanship and aesthetics. I began composing, arranging, and publishing music that received many performances. I have also been influenced by the music and text choices of various composers whose music we publish.

    If you had to work doing something non-musical, what would that be?

    Growing up, I wanted to work in the space program. I still enjoy following the progress made in space exploration. More realistically, with enough time and effort, I could be a writer/correspondent for a reputable, non-mainstream news organization, or perhaps a think tank or institute. While I have no formal training in political science or journalism, I have grown knowledgeable about current events in our complex world in relation to their historical context. I could also work for a non-profit organization with which I feel a connection.

    What do you do when you’re not at work?

    I start each day by exercising and stretching for fifty minutes. I work daily on becoming a better parent to my thirteen-year-old daughter, Naomi, and a better husband to my wife of twenty-two years, Ruth. While not doing that, I am either writing, arranging, or listening to music, and following current events. On weekends I spend time at my local temple and visit with the wonderful friends I have made there. Judaism is very important to me, as I am a child of two Jewish Holocaust Survivors. I spend a great deal of my non-music-related free time trying to make the world a better place in which to live.

    Any exciting plans on the horizon?

    Apart from composing and arranging new works, as I am fifty-eight years old, it is time for my wife and I to start prioritizing and acting upon our bucket list wishes and, along with our daughter, make plans to travel to places we have never been, and try new experiences, both at home and away. At some point, I would also like to organize a major retrospective concert or concerts of my music, and put together some genre-specific compact discs.


    Stanley Hoffman

    Stanley M. Hoffman was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1959. He has lived in the greater Boston area since 1977. He received degrees in Composition from Brandeis University (Ph.D. 1993), the New England Conservatory of Music (M.M. 1984), and the Boston Conservatory (B.M. Cum Laude 1981).

    Dr. Hoffman’s accomplishments as a composer include having his published flute duet, Arirang Variations, receive a world premiere performance on a program in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on April 12, 2015, by bass flute players Peter Sheridan and Judy Diez d'Aux in a concert was sponsored by the Toronto-based music organization Flute Street. Peter Sheridan also commissioned Prelude and Fughetta for alto flute and organ and gave the premiere performance of this work on May 3, 2015, St. Patrick, Mentone, VIC, Australia, with the organist Christopher Trikilis. Peter Sheridan also recorded the flute duets Meditations and Memories which appears on the CD Monologues and Dialogues performed on the Australian label MOVE Records (Catalogue Number: MD 3349), and Arirang Variations which appears on the CD Continental Drift, also recorded on MOVE Records (Catalogue Number: MD 3403). The individual tracks are available on iTunes.

    His unpublished compositions Crimson Sunset for organ solo, Album Leaf for Harp Solo, Variant on “Battle Cry of Freedom,” for wind quintet, Get me a rag! Just a minute... for piano solo and Limericks and Laughter Thereafter for clarinet solo, were chosen for performance by David Bohn, Jasmin Cowin, the West Point Woodwind Quintet, Shiau-uen Ding and Bruce Curlette, respectively, in the 2012 and 2011 call for scores known as "15-Minutes-of-Fame" by the Composer’s Voice Concert Series in New York City. His piece The Monkey for clarinet, violin and piano was selected to be part of the 12-movement work "Zodiac: Across the Universe," which was premiered in China as part of The Zodiac Trio's 10-concert tour, which took place during November, 2013. Dr. Hoffman won a co-first place prize in the 2008–09 Longfellow Chorus International Composition Competition for his setting of the Longfellow poem Nature. He won a third place prize in the 2008 Choral Composition Competition sponsored by The New York Virtuoso Singers for his unpublished piece Anim Zemiros for SATB chorus.

    In 2008, Dr. Hoffman received a commission from Carolina Brass for Fanfare, Tango and Fughetta on Hebrew Themes. Grant Us Peace for SATB chorus received an “Honors” citation in 2002 in the Waging Peace Through Singing project sponsored by iwagepeace.com. The first song from his song cycle Selections From “The Song of Songs” for male voice and wind ensemble received a 1996 premiere performance from the Metropolitan Wind Symphony. Dr. Hoffman received a 1995 commission from the ALEA III contemporary music ensemble for his composition Trio In One Movement for clarinet, viola and violoncello. His piece There Is a Name for SA chorus and amplified classical guitar was performed before an audience of over 8000 people at the dedication ceremonies of the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston on October 22, 1995. Dr. Hoffman’s composition String Quartet (1987) was performed by the Boston Composers String Quartet at Jordan Hall in Boston on January 29, 1989. This piece was also performed by them in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York City on February 12, 1989. He received a 1984–85 Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) Award to Student Composers for his composition Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

    Dr. Hoffman also works as a conductor, vocalist and lecturer. He has been Chief Editor at ECS Publishing since 1998, and is the Founding Music Director of The Temple Israel of Natick Singers.

    Visit the composer's YouTube Channel.

     

  • K. Lee Scott Interview | Featured Sacred Composer

    K. Lee Scott

    This month we interviewed K. Lee Scott, a composer known for his extensive collection of original choral works and his Alabama roots.

    How did you first become involved with music, and what drew you to composition?

    I started music lessons when my father received a piano from a gentleman who offered it as partial payment for a debt he owed. My dad had it tuned, and a piano teacher was engaged. I practiced so much that my parents would ask if it might be time for me to take a rest.

    What is your compositional process like?

    My compositional process varies a bit. Usually I receive a commission and settlement is made on a text and type of composition it is to be, i.e., is it to be meditative or celebratory. Once this comes about, I am off and running. The text can suggest rhythms and even intervals. With a few scraps a larger picture begins to emerge. Musical ideas do not chase me around when I'm taking a shower or mowing the lawn. Ideas usually come to me when I begin work on a composition. I pity composers for whom musical ideas come unannounced. That must be inconvenient.

    What is your favorite medium to write for? What draws you to that?

    As a composer I have always been drawn to the choral medium. Don't ask me why, I just have a special affinity for that. I also write for vocal solo, organ, brass, and orchestra. I would enjoy writing more instrumental music as time and opportunity may materialize.

    Your piece, Band of Angels, was composed and performed for the 50th anniversary of the children who died in racial violence in 1963 in Birmingham. What are you hopes for this piece in the future?

    Band of Angels has a special place in my output. As a native of Alabama and a resident of Birmingham for many years, I desired to lend my skills to the creation of a musical work commemorating  the 50th anniversary of Birmingham Church bombing which took place September 15, 1963. The work was premiered by two college choirs, a community choir and a high school choir. Readers of scriptural passages between the musical numbers were survivors who were actually present at the bombing in 1963. They also spoke for a time before the work was presented. Their participation made the event truly memorable, and I am especially thankful to have brought together all those young people who sang in the various choirs with these important historic figures. That was worth it all. MorningStar, of course has published the work, and I think it is very accessible and useful for Black History Month, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and other similar events.

    Band of Angels
    What sorts of new projects do you have in the works?

    Recently I have been commissioned by Westminster Presbyterian Church, Oklahoma City, to write a chancel opera. They have many fine voices in the choir, and I am excited about the project. The subject will be the story of Naaman, the Old Testament Syrian General who was healed of leprosy by Elisha, the prophet. Not only do I think many churches will find it of interest, but hopefully colleges as well.

    What are you up to when you’re not composing or performing?

    My hobbies are bonsai and collecting antique prints and engravings. Bonsai is a very perfectionist hobby, and sometimes I wish I enjoyed growing tomatoes instead. Composition is perfectionistic enough. As a collector of antique prints and engravings, I especially like 18th century architectural works, especially those in the Palladian style.


    K. Lee Scott has emerged as one of America’s foremost composers of music for the church during the past two decades. His hymns are found in eight hymnals including A New Hymnal for Colleges and Schools (Yale University Press), Voices United (The United Church of Canada), and With One Voice (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). His 300 published compositions include anthems, hymns, works for solo voice, organ, brass, and major works including a Christmas cantata and a Te Deum. In 1995 he was commissioned jointly by the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, Inc. and Choristers Guild to compose a hymn setting for their convocation in San Diego.

    Scott received two degrees in choral music from The University of Alabama School of Music under the tutelage of Frederick Prentice. In addition to Prentice, he also studied composition with Paul Hedwall and Gail Kubik. Scott has served as adjunct faculty for The University of Alabama School of Music, The University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Music, and Samford University School of Music. He has traveled extensively as guest conductor and clinician throughout the United States, as well as to Canada and Africa.

    The MorningStar catalog features a generous selection of Scott’s music including anthems, festival hymn settings, and music for brass. "The Tree of Life" (Shades Mountain) has become established as one of the important hymn settings of our time. Two volumes of SAB anthems, Coram Deo I and II, plus the K. Lee Scott Hymnary (Rejoice in God), are also major contributions.

    See Scott's MorningStar works here.

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