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Monthly Archives: December 2017

  • "It is important for us music ministers to remember why we do what we do."

    An introduction to Paul Westermeyer’s Church Musicians: Reflections on Their Call, Craft, History, and Challenges

    by Kelly Dobbs-Mickus

    Paul Westermeyer

    Have you ever met Paul Westermeyer? As I was reading his book Church Musicians: Reflections on Their Call, Craft, History, and Challenges, I recognized the direct but impactful style of his discourse from the many times I have talked with him, worked with him, and heard his presentations. The breadth of his knowledge and experience as a musician, pastor, theologian, editor, and teacher is astonishing, surpassed only by his sense of commitment to the ministerial life.

    The brevity of Dr. Westermeyer’s book of essays belies its depth of content and layers of meaning. He cuts to the core of the concepts and terms church musicians live with in a direct way, articulating issues in ways we may have been unable to and thus opening the door to a deeper understanding. While written from a Lutheran perspective, these reflections are applicable for a much wider audience and would make an excellent tool for personal or collegial study and reflection.

    Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

    ...the Christian faith is not about being drawn in by some kind of music or any other manipulative ploy, but is about the way of the cross... not about what turns my crank, but about serving my neighbor. (p. 4)

    [Church musicians] learn from one another across denominational boundaries and relate to one another and to the whole church with a generous freedom. (p. 37)

    By the craft of their musical vocation cantors are at the center of a people’s heartbeat. ...They become one with the community in a way that nobody else does. (p. 38)

    [Church musicians] can live out their vocations musically, and the truth that comes with that living in the best way possible, which may bring with it the painful discipline of the cross. (p. 73)

    I believe that if we take Dr. Westermeyer’s words to heart, it will have a profound impact on how we view our ministry. I found his emphasis on the cross particularly compelling. We who work in the service of God’s people are not immune from hardship or mistreatment, even in that service. He reminds us that embracing the cross—not shying away from it—is part of who we are as Christians.

    It is important for us music ministers to remember why we do what we do. As Dr. Westermeyer puts it, “music is for the glory of God and the good of the neighbor.” Take the time to delve into his expert context and insightful elaborations on that simple statement—you won’t regret it.

    And, watch for a new Westermeyer book being published in 2018: A High and Holy Calling: Essays of Encouragement for the Church and Its Musicians

    Kelly's work at MorningStar Music Publishers focuses on resources for Catholic communities. In addition, she is organist at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Chicago.

    Kelly Dobbs-Mickus
  • Fall & Winter 2017 Performances

    November and December are always busy months for concerts! Here's a run-down of just some of what our composers have been up to.

    The Boston-based chamber music group Radius Ensemble performed a concert with works by E. C. Schirmer composers Elena Ruehr and Libby Larsen. Both works were programmatic in nature, with Ruehr's Lucy titled after the famous Australopithecine. Larsen's work, Yellow Jersey, depicts racing through the Tour de France.

    Lucy will also be performed in December at Northeastern University



    Elena Ruehr
    Libby Larsen







    Paul Gibson's Salve Regina was performed by the Festival Honor Choir of the Pennsylvania Collegiate Choral Festival, led by Dr. Mary Breden. The concert took place at Susquehanna University in the acclaimed acoustics of Stretansky Hall.

    Daron Hagen's choral suite, Silent Night, was performed by Quintessence Choral Artists of the Southwest. Hagen writes of the work:

    I hope that the contemplative and intimate musical space created by these carols in performance together fulfills the function of helping each of us to reconnect at this important time of year with the reason they were created and sung in the first place.

    Hagen, along with Gilda Lyons, also performed a half-recital followed by a visit with the audience as part of Philadelphia's Lyric Fest. Read more.

    He also appeared as a conductor with the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia in November, and will do so again in the spring.


    For more news, check out our other blog posts and newsletters. If you are a composer or performer of music from ECS Publishing Group, we'd love to hear from you!

  • Coming Up: Cipullo, Ching, and Moriarty featured at NOA

    The first week of the new year will be a busy one for composers Tom Cipullo, Michael Ching, and John Moriarty. All will travel to the National Opera Association conference in New Orleans. Together, Cipullo and Ching will lead a session on producing new opera, titled "Sinatra, Puccini, and This Thing of Ours."

    Cipullo's opera After Life will be performed for conference attendees and the public at Loyola University as the Dominick Argento Chamber Opera Winner.

    Finally, Moriarty, known for his book, Diction, will be presented with the Lift Every Voice award.

    ECS Publishing Group will have a table at the conference--stop by to meet us!

    We'll post more information about each of these features after the event.

  • The Wise Women: Conrad Susa's Christmas Opera @ Stanford

    Stanford University presented two performances of Conrad Susa's one-act Chamber opera for Christmas, The Wise Women, in December this year. Susa is known for his operas, particularly perennial favorites like Transformations and The Dangerous Liaisons. With this work, he offers a new perspective on the nativity and its mysteries. The audience gets a taste of that mystery as well, as Susa included passages of aleatoric music and passages for the audience to sing.


    Stanford's Production

    The 2017 production by Stanford was staged at the university's Memorial Church, and was sponsored by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, as well as the Department of Music and Office for Religious Life. The ensemble was made up of students, faculty, staff, and community members. For more information on the production, check out this article by Robin Wander.


    Synopsis of the Opera

    Led by a tri-partite star, the Wise Men (Youth, Husband, Old Man), followed by the women (Maiden, Goodwife, Crone), rest at an oasis. Discussion of their trip causes disagreement between the men, who insist they seek an adult king, and the women, who are certain the monarch will be a baby. Deciding to leave the women behind, the men proceed with their entourage following the impatient star. Disappointed, angry and confused, the women lament their fates and retire. As the women sleep, the Holy Mother and Child appear to them in a vision, allowing them to see the baby before the men do. As the shepherds descend on Bethlehem to worship the Child, the Wise Men arrive and question the regality of the Child. A host of unusual angels addresses these doubts in a unique version of the angels' message. During the singing of the Gloria, the Wise Men offer their gifts and retire; the shepherds return telling others the good news and the Holy Family is transported to the oasis of the Wise Women. The star invites “children” of all ages to come to the oasis to see the baby. These children and the women fall asleep as the Holy Family leaves. The disappointed and confused Wise Men return. In riddle, the women help the men to understand that the best gift for this King is one which recognizes divinity in every child: love.


  • Premieres this Month: Gibson, Hagen, and Walker

    Among composers with premiers this month were Daron Hagen, Paul Gibson, and Gwyneth Walker.

    Paul Gibson

    Paul Gibson's piece Ring Out, Wild Bells! premiered on December 3 at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, performed by all five choirs of the Los Angeles Children's Chorus and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The piece will be performed again in two concerts December 17 with the Children's Chorus and the Pasadena Symphony.



    Daron Hagen

    Daron Hagen's setting of the W. B. Yeats poem, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, premiered in New York on December 12. Baritone Jorell Williams and pianist Mila Henry performed the work in a concert presented by Phoenix Concerts at the Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy. The new setting was commissioned by the Steven Gerber Trust, for premiere on the Phoenix Concerts, is dedicated to Mr. Williams and Ms. Henry.




    Gwyneth Walker

    Northsong, a Vermont choral society, premiered Gwyneth Walker's The Friendly Beasts on their two Christmas concerts in early December. The composer writes: The Friendly Beasts portrays the animals who have protected Jesus and Mary during the birth. Each animal proudly takes its turn announcing its contribution of the gifts they brought to Immanuel.







  • Getting into the Christmas Spirit with The Snow Lay on the Ground

    Everyone has their favorite Christmas album. Whether it's Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey, The Nutcracker Suite, or Messiah, decorating a tree, sitting by a fire, baking cookies and other traditions just don't feel the same without the right music in the background. This year we have enjoyed listening to the 2016 Arsis release, The Snow Lay on the Ground, a collection of carols and organ improvisations by Julian Wachner, performed by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, the Trinity Youth Chorus, and Novus NY.

    Listen to the full album below, or on Spotify!


    And if your favorite Christmas music is Messiah, Trinity Wall Street will live stream their performances December 15-17. More information here.

  • Christmas Favorites by Randol Bass - 2017 Performances

    Every year, thousands of concert-goers are treated to such works as The Night Before Christmas, A Feast of Carols, Christmas Flourish, Seasonal Sounds, and Gloria, all by renowned pops composer Randol Alan Bass. The highlight of 2017 was, without a doubt, the 4 pieces put on by DCINY (Distinguished Concerts International New York) at Carnegie Hall, where the composer performed as the narrator. Below is a list of some of the most significant performances of Bass' perennial favorite, The Night Before Christmas.

    We particularly like this video of The Night Before Christmas, performed by The United States Army Band "Pershing's Own."

    The Night Before Christmas
    Selected Performances of 2017

    Amarillo Symphony

    Bakersfield Symphony

    Baltimore Symphony

    Colorado Symphony

    Columbus Symphony


    Firelands Symphony

    Flint Symphony

    Fort Worth Symphony

    Grand Rapids Symphony

    Hawaii Symphony

    Irving Symphony

    Louisville Orchestra

    New World Symphony

    Pacific Symphony

    Philadelphia Orchestra

    Roswell Symphony

    Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra

    San Antonio Symphony

    St. Louis Symphony


    Read more about Randol Bass in this article by the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

  • Featured Recording: Allen Shawn - Piano Works / Julia Bartha

    For this month's Featured Recording, we turn to composer Allen Shawn.

    Recorded in Hannover in 2013, Julia Bartha takes us through five of Shawn's multi-movement works for piano in the Coviello Classics release, titled Allen Shawn: Piano Works--Julia Bartha, Piano.

    Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times writes: “This recent recording offers an immersion into Mr. Shawn’s piano music, played brilliantly by Julia Bartha. The works range from “Aus/From: Four Jazz Preludes,” composed in 1980 for his father, to his Piano Sonata No. 4 (2009), dedicated to Ms. Bartha. You hear lots of styles in Mr. Shawn’s voice: moody atonality, hints of Janacek, thickly chromatic lyricism, Messiaen-like cluster chords, rhythmic bursts that out-pummel Prokofiev. Yet Mr. Shawn’s own voice comes through in the deliberate, skillful, personal way he composes these pieces. And they are dazzlingly conceived for the piano. But none of the challenges daunt the impressive Ms. Bartha.”

    Shawn and Bartha in 2012.


    Two Galaxy Music publications appear on the recording.

  • John David Earnest: ECS Composer of the Month

    "A joyful, demanding, arduous task..."

    Words from John David Earnest on the work of a composer.

    Describe life as a composer.

    I write music because I'm compelled to do so: it's a joyful, demanding, arduous task, and the spiritual satisfaction is often profound.

    Describe your compositional style. What most inspires your music?

    It's difficult to describe one's own compositional "style," if there is one at all. The most I can say about it is that I love making a good melody, especially a lyrical one; I'm also drawn to propulsive rhythmic ideas, and dissonant chromatic harmony in a tonal context.

    For the past 35 years, you've taught composition and orchestration privately as well as at the university level. In your work with students, what questions do you hear most often?

    Student: I have this idea, but now I'm stuck--how do I go on from here?

    I usually have a variety of answers to the question, depending on the student, but my most frequent answer is: Use what you've already got! You don't need to keep generating more ideas. Just look for the potential in the original idea itself (intervallic and rhythmic motives, harmonic structures, patterning, and the like), and use those things to start building a structure for the piece. Think ahead about how the piece might take shape.

    Do you have any words of advice for young or new composers looking to share their music with ensembles, conductors, or publishers?

    Learn as much as you can about the players and the instruments you're writing for. Make sure your score and parts are carefully edited for dynamics, articulations, phrasing, and so on. Anticipate the questions that performers ask by using meticulous notation.

    Several works from you vocal catalog have been recently released by E. C. Schirmer. Do you implement different techniques and methods when composing for the voice, as opposed to what you do in composing for choirs or instruments?

    Yes, most certainly. Setting text to music in solo vocal works is a skill unto itself, as is the setting of text in choral works: I always begin with the words first, reading them aloud, then vocally improvising them, often at the keyboard with supporting harmony.

    What musical projects are you currently working on?

    I'm writing a piece for flute/bass flute and piano for premiere by Leonard Garrison at the National Flute Association Convention in 2018. I'm also writing a string quartet, as well as making some solo vocal and choral arrangements of American folk songs and spirituals.

    To find out more about John David Earnest, we recommend this interview by the Union-Bulletin of Walla Walla, WA.

    New York City-based composer John David Earnest was educated at the University of Texas in Austin (BM in Composition, 1964; MM in Composition, 1967). He has written extensively for orchestra, chamber ensemble, chorus, solo voice, concert band, opera and film. His Second Symphony: The Hastening Light for solo soprano, chorus and orchestra, was commissioned and premiered by the Walla Walla Symphony, Yaacov Bergman, conductor, in February 2001. Mr. Earnest's Chasing the Sun, a scherzo for orchestra has been widely played throughout the United States, and was recorded in Poland by the Warsaw National Philharmonic. Other orchestral works include Bountiful Voyager; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (commissioned and premiered by the Mid-Columbia Symphony, Robert Bode, conductor); Sun Songs and Nocturnes (commissioned for Chanticleer and the New Jersey Symphony, Hugh Wolff, conductor); and Southern Exposure (commissioned and premiered by the Mobile Symphony, Scott Speck, conductor).

    Mr. Earnest's chamber music includes the Sonata for Piano (commissioned and premiered by Lee D. Thompson); Trois Morceaux (trio for clarinet, violin and cello); and The Blue Estuaries (for soprano and seven instruments; premiered by soprano Laural Klein and the Zephyr Ensemble, Robert Bode, conductor). Major choral works are A Van Doren Triptych (commissioned by the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants, Craig Jessup, conductor); Only in the Dream (commissioned by the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, Gary Miller, conductor); Variations on Three American Folksongs (commissioned by the Whitman College Chorale, Robert Bode, conductor) and many more choral works, both large and small. Mr. Earnest has been an active theater composer with two one-act operas, Howard (written with librettist Tray Christopher) and A Desperate Waltz (written with librettist Mervyn Goldstein). He is currently working on a full-length opera for premiere in 2006.

    For the past 25 years, Mr. Earnest has been teaching composition and orchestration privately in New York City. In 1999 he was appointed the Johnston Visiting Professor of Music at Whitman College, where he taught composition, as well as a seminar on American Music and the Arts in the 20th Century. He continues his association with Whitman College as Composer-in-Residence while also teaching composition for a limited time each semester. He has taught at Lehman College, City University of New York, and Rutgers University in New Jersey. Fellowships have been awarded Mr. Earnest by the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacDowell Colony.

  • Susan LaBarr: Choral Composer of the Month

    "Counterpoint is not scary."

    Getting to know composer Susan LaBarr and how she works.

    How did you get involved with music, and when did you begin composing?

    I have sung in choirs and played the piano since I was little. I'm fortunate that my parents were always very supportive of my music, and there was no question about majoring in music in college. At Missouri State University, I started as a piano performance major, but realized after two years that that wasn't quite the right path for me. I ended up getting a Bachelor of Arts in music with a geography minor and a Master of Music in Music Theory. I had some choral arranging classes and lessons during my time in college, but it wasn't until after college that I really began composing. I had a few opportunities to arrange and compose some music for the choir at my alma mater, and that's really what started my composition career.

    You acknowledge your time studying with Alice Parker as having a major impact on your “compositional voice.” What did you find most influential from your time studying with her?

    Where to begin with the wonderful Alice Parker? Over the past five years, I have studied with Alice in her composition workshops, heard her speak on multiple occasions, and had her stay in my home twice. Every time I get to hear her speak, I learn something new. The main way that she has influenced my compositional style is by teaching me that counterpoint is not scary. She talks about how each individual voice part should have an interesting line with complete textual thoughts. She showed me how counterpoint doesn't have to be approached intellectually or mathematically, but simply by responding to the melodic line and using pieces of what the melody has already done. It not only makes the texture of the work much more interesting, but it is more easily readable and fun to sing. I can look back at my early works and be a little embarrassed by some of the part writing compared to what I can do now (and I'm still learning!). I know it is all a learning process, and I am proud of where I have come from, but I am also extremely grateful for the opportunity to keep learning new technique.

    Is there a method you use to motivate yourself to write new music? What is your process for writing music?

    What do I use to motivate myself? DEADLINES. Really, I don't think I would ever finish without a deadline! I get really inspired when I hear an incredible live concert or when I hear other composers speak at conferences. That sort of thing makes me want to work harder.

    One of your new choral works, My Very Own, is recently published by Galaxy Music. It is a musical setting with texts adapted from The Song of Solomon and Ruth. What drew you to these texts? Tell us about the inspiration for this work.

    My Very Own was commissioned by two friends of mine, Brian and Allison Murray, for their wedding. They loved these two texts and asked that they be worked together into one piece that would be sung by friends of theirs from their college choir at the University of North Texas. I loved this commission because it was a chance to pare back to the basics--because there would be a small group of singers without much rehearsal time, it really needed to be uncomplicated. For me, when I have those sort of parameters, I feel like I am able to have a lot more success. It causes me to put exactly what I mean and exactly what is needed down on the page, rather than just putting down anything I want. I have to make actual musical choices about how the chord should be voiced and approached, and it makes the construction much stronger. This is a sweet piece that brings back some really wonderful memories.

    What advice would you give to aspiring composers?

    I would tell young composers to listen. Listen to teachers, listen to conductors, listen to other composers' works, listen to choirs, listen to pop music, folk music, modern music. Never assume that you know anything! Go into every situation (especially receiving critiques of your music) with a completely open mind and realizing that the person looking at your music might know more than you. Take it all in. Then, go back to your score and take what you want from what you have heard. Stay strong in your convictions, but be willing to try something else. Also, have your music performed before you send it for publication or to other conductors. Ask to use your school's choir for ten minutes for a read-through, or put together a group of friends to sing something together. It will tell you everything you need to know about your composition. Be willing to revise and rework.

    What can you be found doing when you’re not writing or editing new music?

    When I'm not working with music, I am usually at the park with my three year old, cheering for the Missouri State University Bears at a football or basketball game, or eating or cooking something delicious.

    Susan LaBarr (b. 1981) is a composer and choral editor living and working in Springfield, Missouri.

    In 2015 and 2016, Susan completed commissions for Seraphic Fire, the National ACDA Women’s Choir Consortium, and for the Texas Choral Director’s Association’s Director’s Chorus. She served as the Missouri Composer Laureate for 2012 and 2013, and has been Composer-In-Residence for the Tennessee Chamber Chorus and the Chattanooga Girls Choir (Tennessee). Her arrangement of Quem pastores laudavere appeared on New York Polyphony’s 2014 Grammy-nominated album, Sing Thee Nowell.

    Susan has sung professionally with the Tennessee Chamber Chorus and CORO Vocal Artists. Central to Susan’s musical vocabulary is the knowledge she gained from studying with Alice Parker at her home in Hawley, Massachusetts, where she attended the Composer’s Workshop and Melody Studies Workshop in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Susan attended Missouri State University in Springfield, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in music and a Master of Music in music theory. Susan, her husband Cameron, and their son Elliott reside in Springfield, Missouri, where Cameron is the Director of Choral Studies at Missouri State University and Susan works as Editor of Walton Music.

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