New Music for Fall 2013

It’s been a productive Fall, compositionally speaking, even though there was some personal downs among all the ups.My new compositions include:

  • Two pieces for Handbell choir
  • A new work for trumpet and organ
  • Three sets of pieces for organ left-hand and pedals (this is the bad news/good news of the season)
  • New choral works for Christmas: Introits, antiphon, and anthem

Music for Handbells

We have seven dedicated ringers. While that’s fewer than I would like to have (another four would be welcome, thank you very much) I’m quite pleased with the group I have. These pieces continue a string of works from last year: basically working four or five ringers against the other three/two. This allows me to contrast playing techniques, or timbres (chimes versus bells, or standard ringing versus mallets, or even high versus low). My smaller group is more comfortable doing ensemble-type playing so their parts can be more adventurous than the rest of the choir, providing another element of variety.

The two works are for the Advent/Christmas season. One is based on the hymn Let all mortal flesh. It’s somewht atmospheric and modal. The choir took to it immediately and will easily be able to play it with only four or five rehearsals.

let all mortal fleshWhile the melody is presented in the top line, a middle line presents a repetitive countermelody, with a rhythmic element added by the lower, malleted bells. The excerpt starts in measure 17; the first 16 offer hints of the melody, building up to its statement in measure 17.

The other work is based on Go, tell it on the mountain. My group wanted something that would challenge them. So I did just that. In order not to make the challenge too complicated (this is still a level 2+ to 3+ choir), I set up a characteristic rhythm that occurs in almost every measure, and did my best to alternate between new material and the return of familiar material.

go tell 1Here’s the basic rhythm. The trick for ringers: gotta damp on beat 2. My people don’t like to damp. But they’re giving me the benefit of the doubt, and it sounds great!


go tell 2A contrasting section features the melody in the upper bells, with the lower bells malletting a rhythmic counterpoint. In this section, the basic rhythm is at first absent, reappearing later as things become more involved (somewhat of a one-thing-at-a-time approach).

go tell 3As the piece moves toward its conclusion, the basic rhythm recurs, while the melody is presented in an improvised fashion, as though a jazz musician doing variations on the theme.

It’s a fun romp. That said, we may have run out of time for this year, and may keep this in our repertoire, to present next Christmas. (Or, in fine Episcopal fashion, play the piece in early January when it is still liturgically Christmas!)

Music for Trumpet and Organ

I’ve been blessed to have a gifted trumpet player, Phil Sullivan, in residence twice a year at St. Stephen’s Orinda for the past six years. When he’s here, play a lot of music, and I usually write something new for us. This Fall I wrote Through the Night, based on excerpts from Divinum Mysterium and Silent Night. It’s a reflective work, intended to be played on Christmas Eve. I wrote it after hearing some instrumental music of Alan Hovhanness, so it has some of the flowing melody present in many of his works. I’ll have more to say on this work as our presentation date draws near.

Music for Organ Left-handed

I managed to fracture my wrist in late September. As an organist-choir director I normally play a lot of keyboard, but found myself rather limited for a few weeks. I had a couple of great assistants help me out, but soon found it difficult to not be playing. I first thought to take some music for organ written without pedals and transcribe them for one hand and feet–but decided it would be more fun to write my own pieces. I ended up with three sets, each containing a piece that could function as a prelude, an offertory, or a postlude to the church service, as well as being part of a three-movement set.

It was great therapy, and few people knew that I wasn’t using both hands as usual. I’ll soon offer some separate posts on these pieces, collectively known as Gregoriana (I had in mind modeling my melodic material after Gregorian chant, without necessarily quoting or basing the work on a specific chant).

New Choral Works

My church choir is very supportive of my writing–or, at least, is willing to put up with my compositional efforts. For Advent I wrote a set of for Introits (short choral works to start the service each week). The set is based on the psalm for the day. Musical material is based on the psalm as well as on the antiphon I wrote, which the choir and congregation sing when we sing the psalm each Sunday. The challenge: write four different choral works, each using musical material derived from the same source (the antiphon) while being true to the text of the psalm of the day. I can’t wait to share this with you in a future post.

And I couldn’t avoid writing at least on longer work for choir: a setting of Of the Father’s Love Begotten. It’s accompanied by treble melody instrument (covered by our resident trumpet) and belltree. The text is presented in Latin, as well as in two different English translations. The choir hasn’t started work on this as I write (December 4); I ought to be nervous, but am confident that they will enjoy this meditation on a familiar hymn.

I’ve promised several new posts: I’ll try not to disappoint (although if I’m given a choice between writing/making music and writing ABOUT making music, the music will win out every time).



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