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Monthly Archives: February 2018

  • Responsorial Psalm Singing with the Five Graces Psalter

    Guest post by Kelly Dobbs-Mickus

    MorningStar has recently published a new volume of Responsorial Psalms for the 3-year Lectionary cycle by Luke Mayernik. In this series, we will explore the practice of responsorial psalm singing using the Five Graces Psalter for reference, in the context of Roman Catholic liturgy, while acknowledging that other traditions also use responsorial forms. Whether singing/playing responsorial psalms is new for you, or whether you are experienced, we believe these reflections will contribute to this aspect of your ministry.

    This first part of the post considers the responsorial psalm in its liturgical context and then moves to the art of singing and accompanying psalm refrains. It assumes a “regular” parish setting while acknowledging that all worship situations are not identical.

    The responsorial psalm is one of the Scripture readings in the Liturgy of the Word and therefore has an elevated place in the liturgy. The cantor or soloist (called psalmist from here) is the proclaimer, and therefore the communication of the text is his/her most important task. As musicians, we tend to be more concerned with the music than making sure the text is understood, but this clear communication of Scripture is a skill that must be practiced and continually developed by psalmists.

    The psalmist sets the emotional tone of the psalm, and should possess an understanding of this particular part of the story of salvation and how it relates to the other Scripture readings. An excellent resource for psalm spirituality is Sr. Kathleen Harmon’s book Becoming the Psalms: A Spirituality of Singing and Praying the Psalms, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2015. Preparation of the psalm must not be solely an exterior one; it is the psalmist’s privilege and responsibility to pray the psalms.

    Accompanists also have a responsibility to prepare each psalm setting prayerfully. Decide which keyboard instrument fits the particular refrain, assuming there are equally viable options. The refrain accompaniments found in The Five Graces Psalter are quite flexible; even those that appear to be pianistic can be quite successful on the organ (the example included here is such a refrain), and vice versa. Pianists should consider options for volume and articulation, and organists should decide what stops will be most appropriate, etc. Guitar chord symbols are provided; adding guitar to refrains and/or verses adds richness to the texture. Guitar would be a sufficient accompaniment for verses in some situations.

    The refrain melody is usually introduced by a keyboardist, with or without a solo instrumentalist. Playing the refrain accompaniment as written is a possibility, but other options are more helpful for the assembly. The keyboardist might play the melody only, perhaps in octaves. Another option is to “solo out” the melody, perhaps in a higher octave for piano, or on a solo stop for organ. This important skill for organists is most commonly done this way: Play the melody in the right hand, pair the alto and tenor voice in the left hand, and assign the bass line to the pedals. Here is the refrain for Palm Sunday, shown first as it appears in the Five Graces Psalter and then as a solo melody version.

    A pianist has the ability to play the melody more loudly so that it is heard above the texture of the other voices. Having a solo instrument play the melody is very effective, with or without accompaniment. All of these options can be tailored to fit the tone of the psalm and/or the liturgical season or feast; in general, it makes sense to use simpler approaches for seasons such as Advent and Lent and more elaborate ones for seasons such as Christmas and Easter.

    Establish a steady tempo in the introduction, and maintain it for the psalmist’s intonation and assembly response, being careful to rehearse the transitions among those repetitions, as well as the transitions between verses and refrains. There are several ways to handle these transitions—not necessarily one “right” way—but consistency and rehearsal are necessary for confident assembly participation.

    When the psalmist sings the first refrain, there are several things to remember. Here’s a good way to think about what is happening in this liturgical moment: As part of prayerfully proclaiming this Scripture, the psalmist is modeling the best way for the assembly—a group of untrained singers—to sing this particular refrain, thereby enabling their prayerful participation.

    • The notes should be clear and in tune, and the tempo should be steady.
    • Breathe when you believe they will need to breathe.
    • Be musical, because a musical “performance” will engage the assembly. Follow the contour and expression of the musical line, emphasize/de-emphasize certain notes, etc. In other words, allow the music to be an effective vehicle for the particular text.
    • Avoid affectations in your tone (e.g., too much vibrato) and pronunciation (e.g., rolled Rs, or a “British” style) so that the assembly will feel comfortable imitating you.
    • Enunciate each syllable. Imagine that the assembly does not have visual access to the words.
    • Microphones are not a substitute for a supported vocal production; if you have a big voice, move back a bit. Rehearse with the microphone, and record your rehearsal for an objective perspective.

    The accompanist plays two different roles in the responsorial psalm: accompanying the cantor and leading the assembly. S/he needs to support but not overpower the psalmist, taking a back seat especially during the verses to allow the words of the psalm to be primary. S/he needs to lead the assembly in singing each refrain with correct notes, steady tempo, clear breaths, and appropriate volume. It can be helpful for accompanists to give more prominence to the refrain melody—as described above—until the assembly becomes confident.

    The psalmist should allow the keyboardist to be the leader for the assembly refrains. It may be necessary for him/her to help the assembly on the first repetition or two, but it is ideal for him/her to not sing with the assembly unless they are in need of his/her vocal support. When the assembly is singing confidently, an amplified voice singing over them is not only redundant—it sends the wrong message.

    The liturgical primacy of the responsorial psalm demands careful preparation. The next part in this series will explore psalm-tone verses, including the choral options possible for The Five Graces Psalter.

    Visit our website for more information on The Five Graces Psalter, especially the options for both print and downloadable versions.

  • Meet the Editor: Interview with Stanley Hoffman

    As of February 23, 2018, Stanley M. Hoffman will have been Editor at ECS for a full twenty years! We spent some time getting to know him and his experience working in this field for two decades.

    How did you end up at ECS?

    From 1990 to 1998, I worked as Editor at Scores International, a Boston-based music engraving company that is now defunct. We served world class composers, commissioning music organizations, and music publishing companies. ECS Publishing was one of our main customers; I helped to establish the ECS house style. In 1997, I decided that it was time for me to seek a new challenge, so I asked Robert Schuneman, the owner of ECS Publishing at the time, if he could use a full-time editor. Six months later, on February 23, 1998, I began working at ECS Publishing, which has since grown to become ECS Publishing Group.

    Tell us about what you do as an editor.

    My primary role is to evaluate submissions for publication as part of our Editorial Committee. For the titles we agree to accept, I take composers’ and arrangers’ music from manuscript to press. This involves sending rounds of proofs to writers until they sign-off on my editorial work. Today, a manuscript can mean anything from photocopies of handwritten music to computer files engraved using music typesetting software such as Sibelius and Finale. Usually, I receive music files to which I apply our house style and industry standard notation to generate publishable quality editions. My other duties include writing music publishing agreements and negotiating agreements for copyrighted texts and tunes.

    What are the most challenging things about this role? How about the most rewarding things?

    Turning away submissions is not always an easy thing to do, and one must always handle it tactfully. The most rewarding things are helping to launch composers’ careers, watching their catalogs grow, and getting to know them as a professional and an individual. Most composers are grateful for the editorial service I provide with respect to speed, accuracy, and aesthetic value. I also enjoy watching finished editions get launched into the world and seeing how they fare.

     How has the company and industry changed since you started?

    When I began as Editor, the DOS program Score was the music program of choice, and it ran on Windows 98! (IMHO, the look of Score has never been topped. However, it is anything but user friendly.) The process of creating a publishable edition was painstakingly slow back then. My productivity is much greater now. In the late '90s and early '00s, I mostly received handwritten music or Finale files, as Sibelius was just beginning to come into its own as a viable music program for music publishers. That program has come a long way since those days. Now, I usually use the music files I receive from our writers.

    The online economy and digital publishing have caused a seismic shift in the music publishing industry. Some music publishing houses have either gone out of business or have been purchased by larger companies. The same is true of music distributors. The market for compact discs shrunk drastically as download-based and streaming services took control of the audio market. This affected how we worked with our record label, Arsis. I consider myself blessed to be working as part of a great team and especially for Mark Lawson, who is keeping the company healthy and nimble, and is thoughtfully and rapidly taking it in directions I had only dreamed of previously.

    You are also a composer and arranger. How has working at ECS influenced your artistic work?

    When I started, I was writing esoteric works that received few performances outside of the graduate school music programs for which I wrote them. Within the first two years of becoming Editor at this company, I learned what kind of music the serious music consuming public desired and, to my delight, a sizable segment of it then and now still values quality, both in terms of craftsmanship and aesthetics. I began composing, arranging, and publishing music that received many performances. I have also been influenced by the music and text choices of various composers whose music we publish.

    If you had to work doing something non-musical, what would that be?

    Growing up, I wanted to work in the space program. I still enjoy following the progress made in space exploration. More realistically, with enough time and effort, I could be a writer/correspondent for a reputable, non-mainstream news organization, or perhaps a think tank or institute. While I have no formal training in political science or journalism, I have grown knowledgeable about current events in our complex world in relation to their historical context. I could also work for a non-profit organization with which I feel a connection.

    What do you do when you’re not at work?

    I start each day by exercising and stretching for fifty minutes. I work daily on becoming a better parent to my thirteen-year-old daughter, Naomi, and a better husband to my wife of twenty-two years, Ruth. While not doing that, I am either writing, arranging, or listening to music, and following current events. On weekends I spend time at my local temple and visit with the wonderful friends I have made there. Judaism is very important to me, as I am a child of two Jewish Holocaust Survivors. I spend a great deal of my non-music-related free time trying to make the world a better place in which to live.

    Any exciting plans on the horizon?

    Apart from composing and arranging new works, as I am fifty-eight years old, it is time for my wife and I to start prioritizing and acting upon our bucket list wishes and, along with our daughter, make plans to travel to places we have never been, and try new experiences, both at home and away. At some point, I would also like to organize a major retrospective concert or concerts of my music, and put together some genre-specific compact discs.

    Stanley Hoffman

    Stanley M. Hoffman was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1959. He has lived in the greater Boston area since 1977. He received degrees in Composition from Brandeis University (Ph.D. 1993), the New England Conservatory of Music (M.M. 1984), and the Boston Conservatory (B.M. Cum Laude 1981).

    Dr. Hoffman’s accomplishments as a composer include having his published flute duet, Arirang Variations, receive a world premiere performance on a program in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on April 12, 2015, by bass flute players Peter Sheridan and Judy Diez d'Aux in a concert was sponsored by the Toronto-based music organization Flute Street. Peter Sheridan also commissioned Prelude and Fughetta for alto flute and organ and gave the premiere performance of this work on May 3, 2015, St. Patrick, Mentone, VIC, Australia, with the organist Christopher Trikilis. Peter Sheridan also recorded the flute duets Meditations and Memories which appears on the CD Monologues and Dialogues performed on the Australian label MOVE Records (Catalogue Number: MD 3349), and Arirang Variations which appears on the CD Continental Drift, also recorded on MOVE Records (Catalogue Number: MD 3403). The individual tracks are available on iTunes.

    His unpublished compositions Crimson Sunset for organ solo, Album Leaf for Harp Solo, Variant on “Battle Cry of Freedom,” for wind quintet, Get me a rag! Just a minute... for piano solo and Limericks and Laughter Thereafter for clarinet solo, were chosen for performance by David Bohn, Jasmin Cowin, the West Point Woodwind Quintet, Shiau-uen Ding and Bruce Curlette, respectively, in the 2012 and 2011 call for scores known as "15-Minutes-of-Fame" by the Composer’s Voice Concert Series in New York City. His piece The Monkey for clarinet, violin and piano was selected to be part of the 12-movement work "Zodiac: Across the Universe," which was premiered in China as part of The Zodiac Trio's 10-concert tour, which took place during November, 2013. Dr. Hoffman won a co-first place prize in the 2008–09 Longfellow Chorus International Composition Competition for his setting of the Longfellow poem Nature. He won a third place prize in the 2008 Choral Composition Competition sponsored by The New York Virtuoso Singers for his unpublished piece Anim Zemiros for SATB chorus.

    In 2008, Dr. Hoffman received a commission from Carolina Brass for Fanfare, Tango and Fughetta on Hebrew Themes. Grant Us Peace for SATB chorus received an “Honors” citation in 2002 in the Waging Peace Through Singing project sponsored by The first song from his song cycle Selections From “The Song of Songs” for male voice and wind ensemble received a 1996 premiere performance from the Metropolitan Wind Symphony. Dr. Hoffman received a 1995 commission from the ALEA III contemporary music ensemble for his composition Trio In One Movement for clarinet, viola and violoncello. His piece There Is a Name for SA chorus and amplified classical guitar was performed before an audience of over 8000 people at the dedication ceremonies of the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston on October 22, 1995. Dr. Hoffman’s composition String Quartet (1987) was performed by the Boston Composers String Quartet at Jordan Hall in Boston on January 29, 1989. This piece was also performed by them in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York City on February 12, 1989. He received a 1984–85 Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) Award to Student Composers for his composition Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

    Dr. Hoffman also works as a conductor, vocalist and lecturer. He has been Chief Editor at ECS Publishing since 1998, and is the Founding Music Director of The Temple Israel of Natick Singers.

    Visit the composer's YouTube Channel.


  • K. Lee Scott Interview | Featured Sacred Composer

    K. Lee Scott

    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.

    Band of Angels
    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.

    See Scott's MorningStar works here.

  • Music for All Saints Day | February Featured Recording

    This month's featured recording comes to us from Gothic Records, and includes works by such composers as David Conte, Gerald Near, and Craig Phillips.

    Music for All Saints Day
    Into the House and Gate of Heaven
    The Choirs of the Cathedral of St. Philip (Atlanta)
    David Fishburn, organ
    Dale Adelmann, director

    The Choirs of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta present a heavenly foretaste of music for the Feast of All Saints.

    The Cathedral Bookstore writes writes of the album:

    The Cathedral of St. Philip Choir and Schola recorded this disc for Gothic Records in February 2014. 

    The title of the disc is taken from a prayer by John Donne which is included in one of the glorious anthem settings on the CD: 

    Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of Thy glory and dominion, world without end.

    The entire disc consists of anthems which dwell on the joy and peace that is promised to God’s children for all of eternity, providing rich musical interpretations of biblical and poetic texts that contemplate the hope and promise of heaven. All of the music on the disc is appropriate to the feast of All Saints’. We are delighted to offer this beautiful music to the world at this time of year, but we hope that, whenever you listen to this disc, you will experience a little foretaste of heaven. Whether you simply love glorious choral music, or you take comfort in contemplating an eternity of perfect peace and indescribable joy, or you are mourning the loss of a loved one, this disc will speak deeply to you. It is filled with hopeful, encouraging, peace-filled texts and music.

    Listen on Spotify
  • Moonlight Sound Design

    One of this year's stand-out choral pieces from Galaxy Music is Latvian composer Raimonds Tiguls' Moonlight Sound Design. Watch the performance by The Wartburg Choir below.


    Moonlight Sound Design was commissioned and premiered by the youth choir Kamēr conducted by Māris Sirmais in Riga, Latvia in 2012. Moonlight Sound Design is dedicated to my father who died by way of an accident. The title of the piece is inspired by the fact that the studio I have is in my father’s country house in an attic room, and the night moon shines directly into it. In the USA, it was performed by the Wartburg Choir conducted by Lee Nelson at the 2017 National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association in Minneapolis. Galaxy Music published the piece as part of their Lee Nelson Choral Series.

    Moonlight Sound Design is composed for 3 or 4 Soprano Soli, SATB Chorus and Hang* but can be performed with Piano or Guitar accompaniment as well. The piece should not sound sad, but rather ethereal. It is more about longing than sadness. To create a more ethereal mood, the soloists may be staggered throughout the audience, if possible. This will also provide more dimension to the sound. The Bass section should sing the octave E-flat in bars 5–23 and bars 38–56 with a “didgeridoo” effect.
    *The Hang (pronunced haŋ in German) is a musical instrument created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer in Bern, Switzerland. Its name comes from the Bernese-German word for “hand.” The instrument is constructed from two half-shells of deep-drawn, nitrided steel sheets glued together at the rim, leaving the inside hollow, and creating a distinct “UFO” shape. The top (“Ding”) side has a center “note” hammered into it, and seven “tone fields” hammered around the center.


  • Eileen Guenther on Practical Ways to Use "In Their Own Words"

    Eileen Guenther, author of In Their Own Words: Slave Life and the Power of Spirituals, offers some insight on using the book as an effective resource.

    On this text's ability to save time and increase relevance in service:

    There are two concordances listing 100 of the most frequently-sung Spirituals that will be of immense help to those planning worship. One gives the texts of the Spirituals, paired with the biblical verses relating to those texts, and the other is the reverse: listing Bible passages and the Spirituals that are connected with them. They will save musicians and clergy a lot of time as they choose music that relates to the scripture used in a given service.

    The opening chapter gives a brief history of the Middle Passage and slavery, which sets the context for the Spiritual—and for the issues our country is having relating to race today.Other “go-to” resources are Chapter 5, which pairs slave narratives with a specific Spirituals and Chapter 18, where I have compiled lists of Spirituals as they relate  to the 40 themes addressed most frequently in the music.

    On effectively setting up the slave narrative within a program:

    The power of the words of those formerly enslaved is nearly indescribable. These words come from two primary sources: the books they dictated or wrote OR from the interviews conducted with them in the 1930s. Those interviewed had to be at least 10 years old at the time of emancipation, so that the stories they shared were more likely to be their own experiences, not experiences they heard from others.

    Pairing Spirituals with narratives describing their life and work, their food and clothing, along with the  feelings of those enslaved concerning religion or their hopes for freedom effectively magnifies the power of the music in a way that one must experience first-hand.

    On relating the text to today's marginalized culture:

    Many in our country know little of the history of Africans in America: how they came to be here, the horrific conditions in which many lived, or their modes of resistance and other techniques needed to survive the brutality of their daily life. This book attempts to bridge that gap by setting forth the context of their lives and offering a sense of the challenges that were overcome and that, in some ways, are still facing Black Americans today, such as the lack of respect that is experienced by African-Americans on a daily basis, or their basic marginalization from the hegemonic culture—both socially and economically. In Their Own Words also gives a clear picture of the power of music to engender both hope and faith in a situation where there would have been seemingly no reason for either of them to have existed, much less flourish.

    On reactions since the book came out:

    “WOW! I have sung Spirituals all my life and I never knew that!” is one of the most frequent responses to my programs or lectures. “That music really speaks to me,” spoken by people regardless of race. “I can’t believe you did all that work,” is another! I am fortunate to have received amazingly positive reviews, but my favorite words have to be from the most recent review by M. Roger Holland for Pastoral Music, “This has to be the most comprehensive work done on the Negro Spiritual to date.”

    Eileen Guenther

    Eileen Guenther is Professor of Church Music at Wesley Theological Seminary and Professorial Lecturer in music at The George Washington University. An organ recitalist who has performed around the world, Dr. Guenther also lectures widely on clergy-musician relations, global music, spirituals, and music and social justice. She has served as visiting lecturer at Africa University in Zimbabwe and taught music and worship in Uganda and Ivory Coast. South Africa holds a special place in her heart, and she has led six groups of students from Wesley Seminary on immersion trips there. Dr. Guenther served with distinction as minister of music and liturgy at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington D.C, where the choir was called "one of the best in Washington" by The Washington Post. She is a previous National President of the American Guild of Organists, the largest international professional organization serving the organ and choral music fields.

    About In Their Own Words:
    This groundbreaking study of slavery and spirituals is the first to place the unique voices of an enslaved people squarely within the context of their daily lives. Dr. Guenther's deeply researched account weaves a succinct history of “America’s original sin” into an examination of the role of singing and religion in slave life and directly correlates slave testimonies—in their own words—to the themes of Spirituals. In addition to surveying the musical styles, performance practices, and melodic and rhythmic characteristics of spirituals, In Their Own Words includes a biblical concordance to 100 of the spirituals most frequently sung.

  • Connecting through a Solitary Sport: Interview with Alistair Coleman

    This month we got to know composer Alistair Coleman, currently in his first year at The Juilliard School, and the youngest composer as yet published by E. C. Schirmer. His career as a composer and musician is off and running, and it's one we're very excited to follow.

    Alistair Coleman
    How did you become involved with music?

    Music has always been a part of my family. My parents met singing in a symphonic choir in DC and sang semi-professionally in DC choirs, so from an early age, I would observe their rehearsals or be around musical families and friends. In the house, we would always have music playing, or someone would be singing or playing the piano. I first started singing in the Men and Boys Choir at St. Paul’s K Street in Washington, DC, where I built a strong musical foundation by singing English choral music each week. From there, I started piano lessons and would often improvise at the piano.

    When did you know you wanted to be a musician? A composer?

    Since music has always been a part of my life growing up, I could not imagine my life without it. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a musician, but the idea of being a composer didn’t occur to me until I was in middle school. My choral and instrumental teachers would encourage me to compose pieces for our school ensembles, and I received mentorship from my first composition teacher, Gary Davison. Beyond the satisfaction of realizing my musical intentions in a piece, I instantly loved the collaborative process of getting people together to bring a new piece to life. I especially love the excitement of a first rehearsal, because no one knows what to expect, and even though composing can often feel like a solitary sport, it’s incredibly fun to work with all kinds of musicians in these collaborative and experimental settings.

    Was there a critical moment when you became a composer, or was it gradual work and realization?

    Before taking piano lessons, I would noodle/improvise on the piano, especially since my older brother, Ben, took lessons and I often looked up to him. When I began lessons, occasionally, I would become bored practicing my assigned pieces, so instead, I would find myself improvising melodies and chords on the piano. Over time, I would begin to improvise whole new pieces, and once I learned enough about music theory and notation, I would write down these improvisations. Those written-down improvisations would become my very first compositions. The very first performances of my pieces took place at my middle school, since my choral and instrumental teachers would encourage me to compose pieces for our school’s ensembles. The idea of a becoming a composer gradually became more real to me when I spent summers at music programs like the Curtis Institute Young Artist Program and the Atlantic Music Festival.

    Tell us about your experience with some of your composition teachers.

    I currently study with Dr. Robert Beaser, chairman of composition at The Juilliard School in New York. This is our first year working together, and I have learned a lot about myself as a composer under his guidance in this short amount of time. During our lessons, we’ll work through new drafts of pieces I’ve written, and he’ll always encourage me to push myself to explore and uncover new ideas, material, and approaches that I would’ve never thought were possible.

    In high school, I studied with Dr. David Ludwig, composition faculty member at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. I first met him through the Curtis Young Artist Summer Program, where at the time, I had almost exclusively written choral music. During my high school years, he encouraged me to seek opportunities to write more instrumental works, so during our lessons we would work through new pieces for string orchestra, Pierrot ensemble, string quartet, piano trio, and solo instrumental works, to name a few. He would enable me to learn about the limitations and opportunities for different instruments, and help me experiment with different approaches and extended techniques. Even though I still compose a lot of choral music, this was a very informative experience that I continue to explore (and probably will never stop exploring).

    When I was in middle school, my first composition teacher and mentor was Gary Davison, a composer, conductor and organist based in Washington, DC. Gary has always been a very influential person in my life, and he was the first teacher to encourage me to pursue composition. I first started writing choral and vocal pieces, and we would work together to realize my compositional goals, but we would also pay close attention to harmony and voice leading. He helped me build a strong foundation, and he is still a very important mentor to me who I often look to for advice.

    Coleman's first piece with E. C. Schirmer
    Where or when do you feel most inspired to compose?

    Every day, I love to go for a run or take long walks. As a student at Juilliard, I love exploring New York City, and will often venture to Central Park. These experiences give me time to myself to think about and reflect on the work I’m doing, either in school or in my compositional work. Growing up, my family and I would travel to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia to ski and hike in the winter and summer, respectively. It’s an incredibly scenic place, and I’ve always been inspired when I reflect on my experiences there. My string orchestra piece, Constellations, is based on memories of hiking with my family to the peak of one of the mountains to stargaze, where it would be dark enough to see the milky way.

    Once you are inspired, what’s your process for writing a new piece?

    I always improvise on the piano when I start a new piece. It’s an unpredictable process of sitting at the piano for sometimes several hours, and trusting my instincts to go in several directions. Without thinking, I would write ideas down to form a collection of material I could use in a piece. Then, I will return to these collections to play through, synthesize, and even create multiple versions of ideas. During this process, the piece will begin to reveal itself to me, where I start to think about structure, but also pay very close attention to the material, or the identity of each piece. If it’s a choral piece, I always start with the text, and I will often improvise at the piano while singing the text to discover what feels most naturally to me. Although with any piece I write, choral or instrumental, I will always sing each line, as I strive for a sense of line in my music that is intrinsically natural and can connect with people.

    What is your favorite medium to write for?

    Choral music comes most naturally to me, since my musical foundation is based in singing, but I’m always excited to work with new ensembles, both choral and instrumental. I love writing pieces for a specific person or ensemble, especially when it’s a musician I know very well. In these settings, I feel I can really target the player’s strengths and communicate something to the audience in the piece about the connection or relationship I have to the performer.

    How much does a piece change from its inception to its publication?

    There is so much I learn from a rehearsal, workshop, or performance. It can be really hard not to get caught up with the excitement (and joyful terror) of hearing a brand new piece for the first time. I try to stay really engaged to learn as much as I can about the piece. I will often ask players to demonstrate different techniques, or show me alternative ways of notating ideas to approach a piece that is idiomatic for the musician’s instrument, without sacrificing my compositional intentions. Sometimes, I’ll try something new that may not work as well as what I intended, so it’s very informative to have players demonstrate a better way of communicating or notating a certain idea. Occasionally, players even introduce me to new sounds or techniques I may want to use in future pieces. The process is very experimental and collaborative, and especially since composing can be a solitary sport, working with other musicians as a team to bring a new piece to life can be such a rewarding experience.

    Coleman in Collaboration
    Tell us about a memorable musical experience.

    In the summer of 2017, I was fortunate to be selected as a winner of the NextNotes High School Competition, sponsored by the American Composers Forum. In June, I traveled to Minneapolis to share an extended weekend with five other high school composers from around the US. It was an incredible experience. We all attended workshops with professional mentor composers, in-depth rehearsals with professional musicians, a concert of our music, and we were exposed to artists and music events throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The best part was to share rehearsals, concerts, meals, and experiences with the other composers, because even though we came from different areas, backgrounds, and experiences, we all shared a love for creating music. We all still keep in touch, and I’m so glad the American Composers Forum has created this amazing opportunity for high school composers throughout the country.

    Alistair Coleman is a young composer from Washington, DC. Most recently, he was appointed the Composer-in-Residence of the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale. His piece, Of Radiance and Light, was commissioned by the National Philharmonic and premiered at Strathmore Hall in November 2016. His music has been programmed broadly, including performances by the Atlantic Music Festival Orchestra, Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra, Houston Brass Band, Boston University Marsh Chapel Choir, Takoma String Ensemble, Cathedral Choral Society, and National Symphony Orchestra Youth Fellows.

    With three published works, Alistair is the youngest composer ever published by E. C. Schirmer Music Company in its nearly one-hundred-year history. He is a winner of the American Composers Forum NextNotes Competition, a 2017 National YoungArts winner, the 2016 “Audience Choice Award” winner from Symphony Number One, winner of the 2013 NAfME Young Composers Competition, and a two-time winner of the Maryland State Young Composers Competition. He has received recognition in the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards.

    Alistair has studied composition at the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival, Atlantic Music Festival, Curtis Young Artists Summer Program, Oberlin Summer Composition Workshop, and the New York Summer Music Festival. His teachers have included Richard Danielpour and David Ludwig, faculty members at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Alistair began undergraduate studies in 2017 at The Juilliard School, studying with Robert Beaser.

  • Steven Mark Kohn | Welcome to E. C. Schirmer

    Steven Mark Kohn

    We're pleased to announce the addition of composer Steven Mark Kohn to the E. C. Schirmer catalog. Kohn is known particularly for his American Folk Song arrangements, which were premiered by David Daniels and Martin Katz in 2002 at Carnegie Hall. Since then, they have been performed in festivals and on recitals across North America and Europe, and appeared on the NPR series "Song of America." The songs reside in many university music libraries and continue to be featured on professional concerts and university recitals worldwide.

    "Ten Thousand Miles Away," from American Folk Settings
    "Something in the Paper," from Three Impudent Arias


    Recent reviews of Kohn's works include:

    The final set consisted of four marvelous American folk-song settings by Steven Mark Kohn, in which quietly expressive piano parts and Daniels' sensitivity found ways to vary the simple light words (of, say, "On the other shore") in telling ways. - The Washington Post, 2016

    Closing the program were Steven Mark Kohn's arrangements of folk songs, delivering some of the most touching moments in the entire evening....seemed to speak to Brits and North Americans alike. - Schmopera review of David Daniels and Martin Katz performance in London, 2017

    More on Steven Mark Kohn

    Steven Mark Kohn has worn several different creative hats. As a composer, he has written music for a number of award-winning children’s films, including Frog and Toad Together, Uncle Elephant, Cousin Kevin, Morris Goes to School, Commander Toad in Space, Ralph S. Mouse and the Emmy-nominated Runaway Ralph starring Fred Savage and Ray Walston. He has composed and arranged commercial music for Wheaties, Arby’s, Volvo, Hickory Farms, TRW, BP, Stanley Steemer, Matrix and many others. His music can be heard nationally on NPR for the Sylvia Rimm Show and on the Time-Warner audio book series “Health Journeys”, which has sold nearly two million copies worldwide. His “Hymn for String Orchestra” (publ. by Carl Fischer) has been recorded by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and Classical Vocal Repertoire publishes his many art songs. His three volumes of American Folk Song arrangements were premiered in Carnegie Hall by David Daniels and Martin Katz and have been performed all over the world by a number of artists. Andrew Garland and Donna Loewy recorded the entire set for Azica Records. He has co-written and directed the short films Bugfeast, Lord J’s Wild West Daredevil Show and How’s My Driving?, which have been screened at festivals around the country and in Europe. For the theater, he created lyrics for the musicals The Quiltmaker’s Gift (Dramatic Publishing), Unstoppable Me, Little Mozart and the opera The Tale of the Nutcracker, all to the music of Craig Bohmler. His Mary Chesnut; a Civil War Diary was written for soprano Jennifer Larmore and his short story The Professor’s Diary appeared in National Lampoon magazine. He recently completed the libretto for the grand opera Riders of the Purple Sage (music by Mr. Bohmler), which was premiered by Arizona Opera in February of 2017. He currently serves on the composition faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music as Director of the Electronic Music Studio.


    Kohn's works are currently available through Classical Vocal Reprints. They will be in production at E. C. Schirmer in summer of 2018.

  • Behind the Scenes of Glory Denied

    Glory Denied Screenshot

    Ever wanted to know what goes into an opera, start to finish? PBS did this fantastic video special on the Tri-Cities Opera's production of Glory Denied (music by Tom Cipullo, based on the book by Tom Philpott).

    Watch the full video here.

    Our favorite line in the video?

    "Music is the greatest tool to let us experience the feelings of another, and to that extent, it heals."

    Glory Denied is available from E. C. Schirmer.

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