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.
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.