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Monthly Archives: March 2018

  • Michael Ching on Conducting Buoso's Ghost at OperaDelaware

    Next month OperaDelaware and Baltimore Concert Opera are going to do productions of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and my 1996 sequel, Buoso’s Ghost. Our works are like children—it’s best when they grow up and leave the house. (Unfortunately, some stick around on the shelf and don’t pay their fair share of the rent) I’ve been lucky about Buoso. It’s been fairly popular, with performances over the years at places like Pittsburgh Opera Center, Opera Memphis, Indianapolis Opera, Saratoga Opera and more recently at New Jersey Opera and SUNY—Potsdam.

    Buoso's Ghost Piano/Vocal Score

    I’ve been asked to conduct the Schicchi / Buoso double bill and, to keep with the metaphor of our older works as our grown-up children, I find things that I wish I had done differently with their upbringing. Frankly, now in 2018 I have to get to know Buoso in the same way I have to get to know Schicchi, to study the beat patterns, dramatic flow, orchestration, and vocal challenges that will be part of the rehearsal process. It’s a bit of an ethical obligation to get it right as performers and audience members will assume that your word on the piece is definitive. Someday, somebody in the OperaDelaware cast will say “I remember when Ching did it this way…” and that will seem like wisdom of the ages.

    Here’s a piece of composerly business advice I’d give which goes back to the history of Buoso. The advice is: “Get it in writing.” Once when I was running Opera Memphis, I got permission to produce an adaptation of a famous author’s work, only to have the rights bought out from under me by a film company. This was twenty years ago and to this day, a film based on this important American novel has not come out. I had a similar case as a composer—I started work on a project with assurances from the opera company and the author’s agent that everything was great, only to have the agent change and the verbal permission was immediately revoked.

    Back to Buoso’s Ghost. It was originally workshopped at the Chautauqua Opera. The assumption all along was that the work would go on to be premiered there. But the administration—which had been there for years—changed, and all of a sudden, it was somebody else’s project. Like a couch belonging to an evicted tenant, Buoso got put out on the curb. So, even if you’ve got friends and assurances, the advice is, get it in writing or you might not get it at all.

    I promise to follow this up next month with pictures and a report from rehearsals at OperaDelaware.

    In the meantime, here’s a little teaser I did for OperaDelaware for a season announcement. My cat, BINGO, was annoyed.

    Buoso’s Ghost is being performed at OperaDelaware on April 29 and May 5 and at Baltimore Concert Opera April 13 and 15. It is also playing at University of Central Florida April 13 and 14. In addition to being a composer, Michael Ching is an opera consultant at E.C.Schirmer and can be reached at MrBillow [at] gmail [dot] com.

    Michael Ching


  • When the Spirit Sings: Chamber Music of Gwyneth Walker

    This month our featured recording is When the Spirit Sings: Chamber Music of Gwyneth Walker from Musica Harmonia.

    This release features the works of Gywneth Walker, one of the most important composers of our modern day. Widely performed throughout the world, the music of Gwyneth Walker is beloved by performers and audiences alike for its energy, beauty, reverence, drama and humor. Dr. Walker is a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music. Walker's catalog includes over 300 commissioned works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, chorus, and solo voice. [ArkivMusic]

    Tracks include:
    1. When the Spirit Sings
    2. Letters to the World
    3. The Peacemakers
    4. A Vision of Hills
    5. A Cup of Rejoicing

    Listen to the full album below.

  • The Inside Voice: Michael John Trotta Interview Series

    We were so excited to find out that J. W. Pepper created a short video series on composer Michael John Trotta. Trotta has been a MorningStar composer for several years, and more recently has come out with pieces more suited to the Galaxy catalog. This spring, we're releasing his new work For a Breath of Ecstasy, heard throughout the video series.

    Growing up in a musical family, Michael John Trotta was immersed in music from a very young age. As a child, he was in awe of the amazing musicians around him, but he always thought that musical talent was something some people just had. In this interview, Trotta talks about how he went from thinking music was out of reach for him to becoming one of the preeminent young composers in the world.

    Watch the complete series below.

  • Request a New Music Reading Session

    Reading sessions are one of our favorite ways to interact with music directors and musicians. Choral reading sessions are an engaging event requiring active participation from the attendees, who in turn get to experience a lot of music in a short amount of time. Similarly, organ or instrumental sessions can offer exposure to new music in a more casual environment than a service or recital.

    MorningStar has been actively involved in providing reading sessions since its founding in the 1980s. In particular, there's been a strong tie between MorningStar and NPM, and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate and help with chapter meetings in several ways.

    1. Drop us an email requesting some sample music for a quick read through at an upcoming chapter meeting. This can provide some access to new resources without devoting an entire meeting to a reading session. Simply let us know how many copies you need for a single copy for each director, and we will be glad to assist you.
    2. Provide a complete evening meeting devoted to new literature. These sessions can be particularly effective when you mix in some piano, organ, or instrumental music. The sessions can be focused on particular seasons, or can be general in nature. They can also include music of varied difficulties. Many chapters have spread the leadership of these sessions up among chapter members to get more people involved, and others have even asked a local choir to participate by singing some selections from their repertoire. Other chapters have created unique organ and piano reading sessions by receiving new music from us and then dividing pieces up between chapter members to perform. It is a quick way to insure member involvement and to discover new publications.
    3. Contact us about having a MorningStar representative at your session. We'll be glad to work with you to try and find just the right clinician for your situation.

    If you'd like more information about possibilities, please email us!

  • James Biery Interview | Featured Sacred Composer

    James Biery
    How did you first become involved with music, and what drew you to composition?

    I was fascinated by music from an early age, starting piano lessons at age seven and then organ at eleven. As a teenager, I discovered that full-time church music was a career option, and from that moment there was no turning back! As an organ student at Northwestern University, I was almost entirely focused on performance. It was only later after I started work as a church musician that I began to write music of my own. It was a way to come up with music that was needed for particular occasions. Those first pieces were mostly shorter choral pieces. The organ music came later.

    What is your compositional process like? Do you wait until everything is clear in your head, then write it down, or do you start writing and see where it takes you?

    The processes for choral/vocal music and instrumental music are different. For music that will be sung, it starts with the text. I can think of one instance when I wrote a tune first, and then asked my wife Marilyn for a text for it, but almost always it’s a situation where the words come first, and the music is written to accommodate the accents of the words and to illustrate the meaning. For


    instrumental pieces that are based on existing tunes, I like to find a germ of a motive within the tune that can be expanded or shaped into something new to work with.

    Often I will take off in two different directions and then see which one works better. So a lot of music is tossed aside.

    Commissions are great, too, because they encourage composers to set texts or tunes that they might not have chosen otherwise. I will always be grateful to Dusty Johnson and Pamela Decker in Tucson for commissioning my Elegy for organ, which is one of my most successful organ pieces.

    What is your favorite medium to write for? What draws you to that?

    I’m not sure I have a favorite medium. What I most enjoy is whatever I am currently working on! Choral music offers the satisfaction of bringing words to life—the power of musical settings is the ability to explore the emotional impact of a text. “Love Never Ends” is a great example of a piece that brings deeper meaning and emotional impact to a familiar scripture text. And “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”  provided an opportunity to add some dramatic feeling to a familiar hymn-text by highlighting the words of Jesus.

    Love Never Ends
    I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say








    But keyboard music has the advantage of greater freedom of melodic range. Melodies can skip about and go beyond the limitations of a singer’s range. Music for instrumental ensembles is very rewarding, too. The notation software programs that composers have at their disposal are quite remarkable in their ability to play back instrumental sounds with a fair amount of realism. But the music always sounds so much better when you have good musicians playing the music live!

    What sorts of new projects do you have in the works?

    Currently I am reworking the Maundy Thursday chancel opera that I wrote for Holy Week of 2017. We are presenting the work at my church again this year, and it’s an opportunity to clean up some details of instrumentation. The piece is called “Journey to Jerusalem,” and it is a 60 minute piece for a small ensemble of actor/singers, chorus, instrumental ensemble, and clergy. There are three sections, each separated by a spoken prayer and time of silence. The first part portrays the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, and then the gathering around the table in the upper room with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. The second part begins with an anguished aria that Judas sings, followed by a reenactment of the Last Supper. This part concludes with the congregation receiving communion. The final portion of the work is set in the Garden of Gethsemane.

    What are you up to when you’re not composing or performing?

    I’m currently very excited about piano playing. I had continued my piano study through high school, but largely dropped the instrument after I went to college. Last year, we were fortunate enough to acquire a newly-rebuilt 1930 Steinway model A, and the beauty and responsiveness of this instrument has been a revelation. I also very much enjoy doing various projects around the house.

    View all of James Biery's music published by MorningStar here.

    James Biery (born 1956) is an American organist who is Minister of Music at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. He was Director of Music at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota from 1996-2010. Biery was featured regularly as a performer on the Cathedral's monthly concerts. He and his wife, Marilyn, shared the organ and conducting duties at the Cathedral. Before moving to Minnesota, James Biery was Director of Music at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut, where he performed often on the 140 rank Austin organ.

    Biery was educated at Northwestern University, where he earned Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Organ Performance. Mr. Biery also holds the Choirmaster and Fellowship Certificates of the AGO. In 2006, 2007, 2008 James Biery was awarded the ASCAP Plus award for his compositions. In 1986, he was the prize-winner for the highest score on the FAGO exam administered by the American Guild of Organists. The winner of several organ competitions, he was named Second Prize Winner in the 1980 AGO National Open Competition in Organ Playing.

    Biery developed his compositional skills from two disciplines: years of study of the organ and its literature and intense scrutiny of the orchestral scores of numerous composers whose music he transcribed for organ duet and organ solo. As an organist, Biery has distinguished himself by performing much of the repertoire of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His facility at the organ combined with his demonstrated ability to perform and study a vast amount of literature has given Biery a firm basis upon which to compose for the instrument. His organ and choral compositions are published by MorningStar Music Publishers, Concordia, Augsburg-Fortress, GIA, and Oregon Catholic Press. He has recorded for AFKA and Naxos.

  • Composing Opera is an Addiction: Interview with Tom Cipullo

    Tom Cipullo joined the E. C. Schirmer catalog in 2017. As one of America's most performed contemporary opera composers, we wanted to find out more about what makes him tick and the journey he's on.

    How did you first become involved with music, and what drew you to composition?

    I was lucky enough to be born into a musical family. My father, a jazz bassist, performed in post-war New York in every imaginable venue, and my older brother (who eventually became a rock drummer) and I were exposed to a large dose of listening as well as to live performance. Musicians were always in our home, sometimes for extended stays on our rather small living room couch. Whatever indiscretion landed them in that uncomfortable spot, they were a welcome and exciting resource for me, and their talk of songs, pianists, and bassists with “nice lines” fueled my imagination and inspired me.

    I'm not sure what drew me to composition specifically. As far back as I can remember, I was always interested in the great composers of the past—in their lives and in their works.

    What is your compositional process like? Do you wait until everything is clear in your head, then write it down, or do you start writing and see where it takes you?

    Much of what I do it intuitive. And composing is different for me every time I sit down to do it. In general terms though, I'm always trying to create what Copland called " the illusion of inevitability;” the feeling that a piece of music must exist in its present form and would not be complete or right any other way. In my work, I seek always to add a feeling of surprise to that illusion of inevitability. At first glance, inevitability and surprise may seem incongruous, but their coupling will carry a listener along to a satisfactory and involving conclusion.

    We know you primarily as an opera and vocal composer. What do you most enjoy about the voice as a medium? What other genres do you enjoy composing for?

    Frequently, it seems, Italian-American composers are drawn to writing for the voice, and I have not been an exception. This natural inclination, coupled with my lifelong interest in poetry and literature, and fortified, luckily, by a steady stream of commissions, has pushed me to create a large body of songs and vocal chamber works. I enjoy writing every type of music—though composing opera is an addiction.

    Both Glory Denied and After Life take their roots in war. What are your hopes for how an audience member receives these stories? What is the most surprising feedback you’ve gotten on either work so far?

    With Glory Denied, I would like a listener—particularly a younger listener—to have a sense of that era; of its controversies, its passions, and how that time continues to shape our country today. After Life is much different.  That's a piece that is more interested in raising questions than giving answers. What is the role of art and artists in a troubled world? How often does the egotism of the artist blind one to the very humanity they seek to reveal? I've been fortunate to experience some very positive and deeply personal feedback, particularly about Glory Denied. But the most moving and surprising reactions I choose to keep to myself for the present.

    What sorts of new projects do you have in the works?

    Right now, I'm working on a piece called Mayo. It's a full-length grand opera and unlike anything I've done before. I've written the libretto as well as the music, and it is based on the life of a real person, Mayo Buckner. Much of the opera takes place at the Iowa Home for Feeble-Minded Children (a place that actually existed in the first decades of the 20th-century), and the work explores America's interest in the eugenics movement. Even Oliver Wendell Holmes appears as a character! Mayo is the recipient of the Domnnic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize from the Crane School of Music/State University of New York at Potsdam, and the premiere is this November!

    I'm also working a new chamber opera with a libretto by David Mason. Based on the tragic life of Hungarian poet Miklos Radnóti, the piece is commissioned by Music of Remembrance (the organization which also commissioned After Life). It will premiere in Seattle in May 2019.

    What are you up to when you’re not composing?

    Well, I'm the father of a six-year-old daughter.  So when I'm not composing, I'm either busy savoring that experience—or alternatively, savoring the lovely experience of sleeping.

    Tom Cipullo

    Hailed by the American Academy of Art & Letters for music of “inexhaustible imagination, wit, expressive range and originality,” composer Tom Cipullo is the winner of the 2016 Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize from SUNY/Potsdam, a Guggenheim Fellowship (2012), the Arts & Letters Award from the American Academy (2013), and the Sylvia Goldstein Award from Copland House (2013). Mr. Cipullo has received commissions from dozens of performing ensembles and singers, and he has received fellowships and awards from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Liguria Study Center (Italy), the Fundacion Valparaiso (Spain), and the Oberpfaelzer Kuenstlerhaus (Bavaria). The New York Times has called his music “intriguing and unconventional,” and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has called him “an expert in writing for the voice.” Cipullo’s music is recorded on the Naxos, Albany, CRI, PGM, MSR, GPR, Centaur, and Capstone labels.

    Cipullo has composed orchestral works, solo piano pieces, and a vast quantity of vocal music, including over 200 songs and several vocal chamber works. His song cycle Of a Certain Age won the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Art Song Award in 2008. Cipullo’s first opera, Glory Denied, has enjoyed numerous productions, and the Fort Worth Opera recording on Albany Records was cited by Opera News as among the best of 2014. Reviewers have hailed the work as “terrifically powerful… superbly written” (Fanfare), praising its “luminous score (Washington Post),” and noting “the dramatic tension was relentless (Opera News).” Cipullo’s second opera, After Life (libretto by David Mason), has been called “a finely wrought exploration of the role of art in times of grave crisis ( Washington Post)” and “unfailingly inventive (Opera News ).” Recorded on the Naxos label, After Life is the winner of the 2017 the Domenick Argento Chamber Opera Composition prize from the National Opera Association.

    Mr. Cipullo received his Master’s degree in composition from Boston University and his B.S. from Hofstra University, Phi Beta Kappa with highest honors in music.

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