Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Aurora University Choral Festival Post #8 Mashed Potato Love Poem

On October 21st at Aurora University Dr. Lisa Fredenburgh will conduct an excerpt (Mashed Potato Love Poem) from my three movement set Play With Your Food, written about twelve years ago. It's one of my most popular pieces and here are the program notes I usually provide.

Play with Your Food 
(published by Walton)

This set of three pieces is my most performed work. It's not too surprising, since I found three great, truly clever texts to set. May Swenson gives us a cornucopia of delicious summer treats, with the compound words all split apart and reconnected backwards; blueberries become “berries of blue”, Brazil nuts become “nuts of Brazil” and so on. My favorites are “rooms of mush” and “puppies of hush”! You might hear a bit of the music from the overture to “Porgy and Bess” toward the end, by the way. The text for “Mashed Potato Love Poem” is by Sidney Hoddes, a very cool guy who is now an elderly doctor still practicing in Liverpool--but wayback he was a friend of the Beatles and caroused with them in Liverpool before they became famous. The final movement, “Vending Machine”, about a hungry young lad and his happy to play-along Dad, has some lively musical hints of Bernsteins' overture to Candide popping up. Yes, I do like to parody or borrow from other composers or write in their general style now and then!

If I ever had to choose between you
you and a third helping of mashed potatoes
(whipped lightly with a fork
not whisked,
and a little pool of butter
melting in the middle...)

I think
I'd chose
the mashed potatoes

but I'd choose you next

One of my favorite memories from when I led the choral program at the North Carolina Governor's School was surprising the cafeteria staff with a mini-concert each summer with this song featured. We would make the staff stop working and sing to them. You should have seen all the smiles!

Here's a nice performance of the piece (with a bonus track of Vending Machine and an interesting touch they added to that tune) by Oran, a wonderful Canadian youth choir which is part of the Kokopelli Choir organization.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Aurora University Choral Festival Blogpost #7 A City Called Heaven

The Metea High School Treble Singers, directed by Nathan Bramstedt, will perform my arrangement of the African-American spiritual A City Called Heaven on October 21st at Aurora University (Aurora, IL). I'm excited that I will get to hear them perform this piece, since Metea has a history of musical excellence, including placing highly in the annual Grammy music awards for high schools across the country.

This is one of the most poignantly sad, yet beautiful spirituals I know, and a piece I had been wanting to arrange for quite some time, especially after listening to an old recording by the amazing Marion Anderson. See way down below for more on Marion Anderson and her role in the civil rights movement in America.

The imagery of the title is what has always attracted me, yet it stands in such stark contrast to much of the text, which speaks of spiritual isolation (…“my father’s still walkin’ in sin. My brothers and sisters won’t own me…”).

This music tells of  an unfortunate period of our American history, yet also tells the universal story of the human will to survive. I’m also beginning to think we should call these songs what they really are, and what St. Olaf College esteemed conductor Anton Armstrong calls them, that is, slave songs. By doing so, we are forced to face the history behind them, and not just sing them mindlessly.

I had decided to create an arrange of this piece, yet a germinal idea for an arrangement just hadn’t quite hit me, so I kept tabling the project repeatedly over three years or so. Finally during a stretch in December 2005 when I was working on some other spirituals for SATB (mixed choir) I sat down with this piece again and began to try a few things at the piano, and the piece finally started to take shape. Up until then, I just hadn't found a way to make my arrangement more than just ordinary, and that's a problem! The challenge in creating an artistic arrangement is to find a way to create something unique--something with a new twist that people may be surprised by. It could be taking a piece in 4/4 (common time) and turning the beat into 7/8 or some other mixed meter, or it might be changing the usual speed of a piece. For me, the unique aspect that finally popped up was creating a really powerful, loud setting of the section where the words are  "sometimes I'm tossed and driven..." and adding in a strangely dissonant chord into the piano part. This section is a giant, dramatic contrast to the quiet beginning and end of the piece. 

Further note: In general I think our new arrangements of spirituals should be a cappella, as that takes us closest to the origin of the music. Yet, I think there is some room for some accompanied spirituals as well.



I am a poor pilgrim of sorrow, 
I'm toss'd in dis wide world alone.

No hope have I for tomorrow,  
I've started to make Heaven my home.

Some-times I am toss'd an' driven, Lawd,
some-times I don't know where to go.
I've heard of a city call'd Heaven,
I've started to make it my home.

My mother has reach'd dat pure glory,
my father's still walkin' in sin.
My brothers an' sisters won't  own me,
be-cause I'm a-tryin' to get in. 

(repeat chorus)

Nathan Bramstedt, choral director at Metea Valley High School

 Mr. Nathan Bramstedt has been a member of the District 204 music faculty for 12 years.  At Metea Valley High School, he leads a choral program of 250 singers and teaches Bass Chorus, Concert Choir, Treble Singers, Chamber Singers and Music Theory.  After school he directs Off the Record vocal jazz ensemble and Girls Group and sponsors the student-led a cappella groups Apollo and the Muses.  Mr. Bramstedt also assists with the marching band.  Behind the scenes, he is the Theater Program Director, where he produces the main stage productions and directs the musicals.  Prior to opening Metea Valley in 2009, Mr. Bramstedt taught choral music at Crone Middle School.  His choirs have shared stages with area orchestras, collegiate choirs and community ensembles.  He has been recognized five times by the Indian Prairie Educational Foundation as a "Most Influential Educator."  He earned a Master of Music in Choral Conducting degree from the Pennsylvania State University.  Before his Fellowship assignment at Penn State, he taught high school choir and band in Warrensburg, IL.  He earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Illinois Wesleyan University.  He has performed with the Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps, the Chicago Master Singers and has directed choir tours across the country and Europe.

SOME HISTORY: In 1939 Marian Anderson was denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall by the conservative group the Daughters of the American Revolution because of her color. Instead, and at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Ickes, the powerful US secretary of the interior, permitted her to perform at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939. Notice the ENORMOUS crowd as you watch this excellent six minute video, about her role in the civil rights movement in the US:

Friday, October 9, 2015

Aurora University Choral Festival Post #6 God's Nature

On October 21st, at the Aurora University Choral Festival featuring my works, the Aurora University Chamber Choir, directed by Dr. Lisa Fredenburgh, will perform the final movement of my piece God's Nature. This piece was actually commissioned a couple years ago by another conductor who will be performing at the Oct. 21st concert, Paul Laprade.

Paul had asked me to write a celebratory work to commemorate the union of two historic churches in Rockford, where he lives. The two churches were the Second Congregational UCC and the First Presbyterian Church--combined now they are often referred to as Second/First Church. 

The entire piece, God's Nature, has a title with a dual meaning. It refers to God and his Creation, the earth we live on--it also refers to the nature of God's love for humankind. How do we know of his love, how can we sense God's purpose?  

The movements, and some ideas I sketched out as I worked on the pieces and finished them:

God Be in My Head: Our perception of God, and how God is within us. A bit of an introductory movement. The voices and strings mostly work together. The piano is a bit in another world, but eventually joins into the ensemble more. The goal was to achieve a slightly surreal setting and some mystery as the piece launches- get people to listen- draw them in.

For the Beauty of the Earth: Nature's beauty- a lyrical movement in a John Rutter sort of style- and actually a reworking of a setting (never premiered) I did in 2005 which I think I have really improved on by adding the string instruments and added writing quality from eight more years of choral composing/creativity/voice leading and voicing experience, etc. All is pretty and happy.

Lord of the Winds: A shift to doubt, worry, fear of abandonment- set up by the powerfully dissonant instrumental intro. A short, yet powerful text by Mary Coleridge, the great-grand niece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Click to read this fine text.

Shall we Gather at the River/Jerusalem my Happy Home. Shift to the joy and peacefulness of nature, the river symbolism, and then excited hopes of arriving in heaven/Jerusalem etc. Lots of nature images in the poetry. I like the shift to hope and the simplicity of joyous pentatonic melodies plus the rather Coplandesque harmonies I place with those pentatonic lines. 

The texts for the movement being performed on October 21st:

  1. Shall we gather at the river,
    Where bright angel feet have trod,
    With its crystal tide forever
    Flowing by the throne of God?
    • Refrain:
      Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
      The beautiful, the beautiful river;
      Gather with the saints at the river
      That flows by the throne of God.
  2. On the margin of the river,
    Washing up its silver spray,
    We will talk and worship ever,
    All the happy golden day.

  3. Jerusalem, my happy home,
    Name ever dear to me,
    When shall my labors have an end
    In joy and peace with Thee?
  4. Quite through the streets with silver sound
    the flood of life doth flow,
    Upon whose banks on e'vry side
    the wood of life doth grow.
  5. O Christ, do Thou my soul prepare
    for that bright home of love,
    that I may see thee and adore
    with all Thy saints above.
  6. Thy vineyards and thy orchards are
    Most beautiful and fair,
    Full furnished with trees and fruits,
    Most wonderful and rare.
  7. Jerusalem, my happy home,
    my soul still pants for thee,
    Then shall my labors have an end
    when I thy joys shall see.

  1. Under the leadership of Lisa Fredenburgh, the Aurora University Chorale and Chamber Choir perform both on campus and away serving the AU community and communities throughout the Midwest.  She has held previous conducting posts at University of Central Missouri, Meredith College in Raleigh, NC and with the Opera Company of North Carolina and Capitol Opera Raleigh. She holds a DMA and two MM degrees from the University of Arizona where she studied under Maurice Skones, Thomas Hilbish, Jerry McCoy and Kenneth Jennings. Her BA in music education was earned at Luther College, under Weston Noble.  

Dr. Lisa Fredenburgh
Fredenburgh often serves as guest conductor, lecturer and clinician locally, nationally and abroad.  She has conducted All-State Choirs in Tennessee, Georgia, New York, Arkansas, and North Carolina.  She has conducted and taught master classes in the Dominican Republic, Panama and in Bolivia.  She is a frequent presenter at national-, regional- and state-level professional organizations in the fields of Women’s Choral Music, and the Music of Latin America.  She currently serves as Central Division Chair for the Women’s Choir Repertoire & Standards Committee for the American Choral Directors Association and was formerly a member of the steering committee for the 50th Anniversary National Convention in 2009.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Aurora Unversity Choral Festival Blogpost #4 Thou art the Sky

On October 21st at Aurora University The Rock Valley College Chamber Singers, directed by the very talented Paul Laprade, and with Valerie Blair, piano, will perform my piece Thou Art the Sky, with texts by the brilliant Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. This group actually premiered the piece on Feb 1, 2008 at the Illinois 2008 MENC (Music Educators National Council, now called NafMe) convention. 

Published by Roger Dean (division of Lorenz)  Catalog # 15/2430R

The text for this song is #67 in Gitanjali (Song Offerings) by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). Gitanjali’s simple yet deeply profound meditations on God and Nature touched a nerve in pre-World War One Western Europe and the US. As the volume achieved whirlwind popularity Tagore became a household name in wide circles, and for Gitanjali (originally in Bengali, with an English translation he created himself) Tagore became the first Asian winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

In my setting I have tried to musically match the simplicity and directness of Tagore’s meditation, and have also created a chant-like inner theme to the piece by returning again and again to the line “O thou beautiful”.
I have also set other texts from Gitanjali, including a multi-movement work. Also, Oxford publishes my arrangement of another poem from Gitanjli, When I bring to you Colour’d Toys, composed by John Alden Carpenter and arranged by me for women’s voices and piano.
W.B. Yeats expressed his thoughts in 1911 on Tagore's Gitanjali, here are excerpts of Yeats comments:

"I have carried [Gitanjali]... about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics---which are in the original, my Indian friends tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention---display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my live long. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes. A tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude.

[Tagore expresses] innocence, a simplicity that one does not find elsewhere in literature makes the birds and the leaves seem as near to him as they are near to children, and the changes of the seasons great events as before our thoughts had arisen between them and us."

Btw, the Illinois ACDA (American Choral Directors Association) chose Thou Art the Sky as the winner of its 2007 Choral Composition Contest.



Thou art the sky and thou art the nest as well.

O thou beautiful, there in the nest
it is thy love that encloses the soul
with colours and sounds and odours.

There comes the morning with
the golden basket in her right hand
bearing the wreath of beauty, silently
to crown the earth.

And there comes the evening over

the lonely meadows deserted by
herds, through trackless paths,
carrying cool draughts of peace in her
golden pitcher from the western
ocean of rest.
But there, where spreads the
infinite sky for the soul to take her
flight in, reigns the stainless white
radiance. There is no day nor night,
nor form nor colour, and never, never
a word.

Tagore and Einstein, 1930, STYLIN'!

The Rock Valley College Chamber Singers

Dr. Paul Laprade

Paul Laprade, conductor, is Full Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Rock Valley College where he conducts the Concert Choir, Chamber Singers, Women’s Choir, teaches courses in music theory, choral conducting, vocal (lyric) diction, music education, and voice, and assists in advising the collegiate MENC chapter. Ensembles under his direction have performed throughout North America, and have performed at the White House for Presidents Clinton (1994), Bush (2001), and Obama (2010).   
                His articles and review appear in several journals, including The Journal of Music Theory, Theoria, and The Choral Journal. Regionally, he has presented papers on choral technique for the IL-ACDA (July 2005), PMEA (2003), IMEA (2006 and 2008), and conducted at ACDA Division and National conventions. Nationally, he has presented papers on the music of Boulez for the Society for Music Theory (Oakland, CA), and on the music of Donald Martino for the national meeting of the American Musicological Association (Baltimore, Maryland).
                An active adjudicator and clinician throughout the eastern United States, Laprade frequently appears as a guest conductor for county, regional, and symphonic choruses. His pedagogical interests focus heavily on the relationships between music perception, movement, and choral rehearsal processes. His research interests emphasize score analysis and rehearsal technique. Laprade was given the Excellence in Teaching award from the Eastman School of Music. 
                A graduate of Rhode Island College, Eastman School of Music, and Westminster Choir College, with advanced degrees in Music Education, Music Performance, Music Theory, and Choral Conducting, Laprade studied choral conducting under Joseph Flummerfelt, James Jordan, Allen Crowell, Donald Neuen, and in workshops with Robert Shaw. Laprade resides in Rockford, Illinois with the lights of his life, his sons Nathaniel and Jonathan; his time and activities with them are the proudest part of his life.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Aurora University Choral Festival Blogpost #5 This Sparkle of the Day

This Sparkle of the Day will receive its world premiere on October 21st at the Aurora University Festival Concert which holds music written by me over the last fifteen years. Although the piece was written in 2005, it has yet to have a full premiere of all five movements until now. Many thanks to Dr. Peter Dennee of Carthage College (Kenosha, WI) and the newly formed select ensemble Candentibus Women's Chamber Choir which will be performing this work. 

In February 2016 a larger ensemble from Carthage College will perform excerpts from the piece at the American Choral Director's Association North Central Division Conference held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Additionally, the choir will sing the piece in its entirety at a church while they are in the Sioux Falls area.

For this piece I utilized some delightfully refreshing texts by early Catholic saints. I devised short movements that can stand alone or work together in sequence, basically a progression of worship from night into the morning offices. Yet these pieces can be used outside of strictly Catholic services, since the texts simply encompass somewhat general Christian images and ideas.

The general musical model for the piece's structure and overall feel was the Gabriel Faure Messe Basse, a gentle little ten minute gem which is a basically utilitarian worship piece of understated beauty. Thus the simple, manuals only organ part (pedals may be added ad libitum), and the fairly easy SSA vocal parts. Another model, more so for the melodic shapes and harmonies, comes from the British composer Benjamin Britten.

Movement two has some interesting features--the first section is an originally composed setting of the Latin text O Nata Lux de Lumine, which then proceeds to the English version as set by the Renaissance English composer Thomas Tallis, quoted almost verbatim. This is another example of something which I do now and then, quote (or parody, or "sample") other composers' works or snippets of old melodies. In the Tallis section there is a strange little moment when voices disagree on pitch, some parts are singing in a major key while other parts are in minor. This is an effect Tallis (and a few other composers of his time) was quite known for.

The text of movement four is short yet profund. It speaks of how quickly a human life can come into existence and go. We're only here for an instant--It's up to us to make every moment count in some meaningful way.



I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more
than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
   -Psalm 130

It is now the moment for you
to wake from sleep.
For salvation is nearer to us now
than when we became believers;
the night is gone, the day is near.
   -Romans 13

I. The limit of the night is passed,
the quiet hour of sleep has fled;
far up the lance of dawn is cast;
new light upon the heaven is spread.

But when this sparkle of the day
our eyes discern, then, Lord of Light,
to Thee our souls make haste to pray
and offer all their wants aright.

O Holy Spirit, by the deeds
of Thine own light and charity,
renew us through our earthly needs
and cause us to be like to Thee.

Grant this, O Father ever blessed;
and Holy Son, our heavenly friend;
and Holy Ghost, Thou comfort best!
Now and until all time shall end.

  -Saint Hilary

II. O nata lux de lumine,
Jesu redemptor saeculi,
dignare clemens supplicum,
laudes precesque sumere,
qui carne quondam contegi
dignatus es pro perditis,
nos membra confer effici

tui beati corporis.

O light which from the Light has birth,
Jesus, Redeemer of the earth,
thy faithful flock vouchsafe to spare,
hear our gift of praise and prayer,
thou, who for man's salvation sake
thyself hast deigned pure flesh to take,
o make us members true and sure
of that Thy Holy body pure.


Remember, God, that we are the plants in your fields,
so connected to the earth
that you know what would happen
if you did not rain upon us.

And if your light ceased to lift us from the ground
and craft our bodies,
how might we near you
like the suns?

Remember, God, to love us in a way
Our souls can taste and rejoice in.

   -St. Theresa of Avila

IV. My life is an instant,
a fleeting hour.
My life is a moment,
which swiftly escapes me.
O my God, you know that
on earth I have only today
to love you.

    -St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Dr. Peter Dennee

Professor Peter Dennee ’86 joined Carthage in 2005. He conducts the Carthage Women’s Ensemble and teaches courses in conducting and music education.
Prior to his appointment at Carthage, Prof. Dennee held positions as assistant professor of music at West Virginia University and Susquehanna University, and visiting assistant professorships at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of Michigan. He has taught music at the elementary and secondary levels in Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Tempe, Ariz.
He earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in choral music from Arizona State University, a Master of Music in music education from the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University, and a Bachelor of Arts in music education from Carthage (1986).

Hey, if you've read all the way down to here-- here's your bonus! My good friend Joan Szymko set a wonderful text by St Therese of Avila titled Nada te Turba. Here is the text (Joan uses a shortened version of the full text) and the song, conducted by another pal of mine, Lynne Gackle.

Nada te turbe

nada te espante

Todo se pasa

Dios nose muda.

La paciencia todo alcanza.

Quien a Dios tiene

nada le falta

Solo Dios basta.


Let nothing disturb you,

nothing frighten you,

All things are passing.

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Whoever has God lacks nothing.

God is enough.

Aurora University Choral Festival Blogpost #3 Alley Cat Love Song

At the October 21st festival concert at Aurora University in Aurora, IL a number of fine ensembles will be singing selections from my choral output over the last fifteen years. I am currently blogging about each piece that is on the program, giving readers some insight into how and why I produced these pieces. Today's post is about Alley Cat Love Song, a bluesy, jazzy setting for SSA/piano of former US poet laureate Dana Gioia's clever poem.

Dana Gioia

Alley Cat Love Song--See score and listen

Published by Santa Barbara Music Press Cat. # 737


Come into the garden, Fred,

For the neighborhood tabby is gone.
Come into the garden, Fred.
I have nothing but my flea collar on,
And the scent of catnip has gone to my head .
I'll wait by the screen door till dawn.

The fireflies court in the sweetgum tree.
The nightjar calls from the pine,
And she seems to say in her rhapsody,
"Oh, mustard-brown Fred, be mine!"

The full moon lights my whiskers afire,
And the fur goes erect on my spine.

I hear the frogs in the muddy lake
Croaking from shore to shore.
They've one swift season to soothe their ache.
In autumn they sing no more.

So ignore me now, and you'll hear my meow
As I scratch all night at the door.

Windsong Chorus channelling their inner kittyness:

This piece was commissioned by Jim Yarbrough, the director at that time (now retired, and will be in attendance October 21st) of the fine Naperville North High School choral program, and one my earliest supporters. Since Jim has a jazz background (and he also was bass section leader under the legendary Margaret Hillis at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus!) I decided to write him something jazzy and bluesy. I found this wonderfully sly text by Dana Gioia and set about having some fun with it.
Musically the piece goes back and forth between a lyrical, “night music” quasi- Debussy stereotypical impressionist feel (hopefully pianists will smile a bit when they notice an actual Debussy piano prelude quote in the piano intro) and the jazz/blues sections. The ending plays around with different ways of saying the boy cat’s name, “Fred”, including purring/rolling the r sound. I even had an excuse to include one of my favorite Ravel chords in this piece (a pretty pungent V chord with a flat 9 and a sharp 11). It’s a chord Ravel uses in pieces like the Piano Concerto and his other jazz influenced music.

Here's Debussy Voiles, which I "borrowed" (sampled? stole? parodied?) at the beginning. When pianists first sit down at the piano with the score to Alley Cat Love Song this is a fun surprise for them. They can't help but grin at the unexpected quote from a piece they all know!

Performing Alley Cat Love Song on October 21st will be the women's ensemble from Aurora University directed by Dr. Lisa Fredenburgh:

Under the leadership of Lisa Fredenburgh, the Aurora University Chorale and Chamber Choir perform both on campus and away serving the AU community and communities throughout the Midwest.  She has held previous conducting posts at University of Central Missouri, Meredith College in Raleigh, NC and with the Opera Company of North Carolina and Capitol Opera Raleigh. She holds a DMA and two MM degrees from the University of Arizona where she studied under Maurice Skones, Thomas Hilbish, Jerry McCoy and Kenneth Jennings. Her BA in music education was earned at Luther College, under Weston Noble.  

Dr. Lisa Fredenburgh
Fredenburgh often serves as guest conductor, lecturer and clinician locally, nationally and abroad.  She has conducted All-State Choirs in Tennessee, Georgia, New York, Arkansas, and North Carolina.  She has conducted and taught master classes in the Dominican Republic, Panama and in Bolivia.  She is a frequent presenter at national-, regional- and state-level professional organizations in the fields of Women’s Choral Music, and the Music of Latin America.  She currently serves as Central Division Chair for the Women’s Choir Repertoire & Standards Committee for the American Choral Directors Association and was formerly a member of the steering committee for the 50th Anniversary National Convention in 2009.  

Read more:

Hey, if you've read all this way--here's your reward. The epic hit from last century (1961), The Alleycat by Bent Fabric (love that name!).

Check out the old school image here- an old 45 RPM vinyl record!