Thursday, September 8, 2011

Appointment as Composer in Residence

The Young Naperville Singers

I'm pleased to announce that I have been appointed as composer in residence for 2011-12 for the Young Naperville Singers, Angie Johnson, artistic director. This is a blossoming organization fueled by Angie's great energy and vision – now boasting seven treble choirs covering ages K-12. They have just added a choir for boys only starting at 4th grade. I will guess that this will be generally a boys treble choir but that they will work with changing voices as well as that situation arises. This boys choir has been a dream of Angie's for awhile now. The organization has actually held ten years of a boys ”power sing” (adult male led rote singing and drumming = manly fun) twice yearly which has helped get a few more boys into the organization. I expect that this dedicated boys ensemble, led by a very energetic young man, Ryan Henry (a graduate of the fine choral program at Millikin), will take off and be a great success.

Angie Johnson, YNS Artistic Director

My main role as composer in residence is to write new pieces for specific choirs in the organization and for the choirs in a massed formation. For this December I wrote an SA/piano piece for Anne Kasprzak's group. The text is a wonderfully simple and sweet winter poem by J. Patrick Lewis:

Alone in Winter

Have you come upon a doe, alone in winter?
I did once. She was shy.
Wind galloped through the trees
And the trees stepped back
And the doe made a slow circle in the air
with her wet black nose, as if to say,
I have come upon a boy, alone in winter.

The other piece I wrote is for the massed choirs, a big, joyous setting of the poem On Christmas Morn by Eleanor Farjeon (below are the verses of the poem I used):

Now every child that dwells on earth,
Stand up, stand up and sing:
The passing night has given birth
Unto the childrens' King.
Sing sweet as the flute,
Sing clear as the horn,
Sing joy of the Children,
Come Christmas morn.

Now every Star that dwells in sky,
Look down with shining eyes:
The night has dropped in passing by
A Star from Paradise.

Now every Bird that flies in air,
Sing, raven, lark and dove:
The night has brooded on her lair
And fledged the Bird of love.

Now every Beast that crops in field,
Breathe sweetly and adore:
The night has brought the richest yield
That e’er harvest bore.

In addition to writing pieces for the groups I will also interact with them in rehearsal, do some workshops with them about the creative process and whatever else Angie and I can think up. I also hope to interact with the community in which the choir resides. This coming weekend the top two choirs will be in a retreat, which is a brilliant way to bond, build teamwork, and get cracking on learning scores. I have been invited to work with the choirs for about 45 minutes. I think instead of working with them on their singing or making it all about my music in some way, I have decided to bring a few poems (which I have set to music) and have a discussion about poetry and how we connect to its messages. Since these will be singers in their teens they will be able to get into just about anything I might bring in. I think I will bring in two poems, bu one of them for sure will be the following, which speaks to us about the transiency of life, and how we choose to live within that transient beauty:

LAKE SONG by Collette Inez

Every day our name is changed,
say stones colliding into waves.
Go read our names on the shore,
say waves colliding into stones.

Birds over water call their names
to each other again and again
to say where they are.
Where have you been, my small bird?

I know our names will change one day
to stones in a field
of anemones and lavender.

Before you read the farthest wave,
before our shadows disappear
in a starry blur, call out your name
to say where we are.

I am very much looking forward to this concert season working with Angie, the other directors, and of course the singers. This is my second appointment as a composer in residence. The first was with a very fine ensemble in Madison, Wisconsin, The Festival Singers. This new appointment with YNS will be very different since I will be around all the youthful energy that 300+ children create!

Note: For anyone interested, my SSA/piano setting of Lake Song is published by Roger Dean. A professional recording of the piece by the Milwaukee Choral Artists can be found on my website at

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