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Monthly Archives: April 2018

  • Sacred Song and the Public Square

    Guest post by Brian Hehn
    Direct of The Center for Congregational Song
    The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada

    The Hymn Society’s Annual Conference

    Each July hymnologists, pastors, church musicians, composers, poets, and people who just love singing together come together at The Hymn Society’s Annual Conference. This year we will meet in St. Louis at Washington University to celebrate the intersection between the public square and the church’s song. How do those two intersect and interact? How can song function not only within the walls of the church but out in the world? And what better place to explore that topic than in St. Louis, which has been in many ways the focal point of protests and conflict over the last decade here in the United States?

    Diverse Leadership

    We believe that the holy act of singing together shapes faith, heals brokenness, transforms lives, and renews peace. Because of that, we are committed to including diversity in our leadership. Our conference leaders this year come from a wide variety of backgrounds, races, and genres/styles. The opening hymn festival will be led by one of the nation’s most talented young organists, Nathaniel Gumbs, who will lead us in some of the great hymns of the faith interweaving with the voice of the organ. The next day, we will be lead in both plenary and hymn festival by former member of Sweet Honey on the Rock and aural/oral song-leading expert Ysaye Barnwell. The following day will include a plenary by Cuban hymnologist Amos Lopez followed by an evening hymn festival of Roman Catholic hymnody at the beautiful Cathedral Basilica. Wednesday will feature David Bailey and Urban Doxology, whose ministry is based in Richmond, Virginia, and focused on bringing reconciliation to their community through worship and relationship-building. Finally, our Thursday closing festival will feature local St. Louis musician Paul Vasile in a celebration of song that moves us from our seats into the streets.

    Nathaniel Gumbs Nathaniel Gumbs
    Ysaye Barnwell Ysaye Barnwell
    Paul Vasile Paul Vasile

    Community and Connections

    One of the things that is unique and inspiring about gatherings of The Hymn Society is the sense of community that naturally occurs. Although the room is filled with some of the country’s most talented song leaders and knowledgeable scholars, they each bring with them a deep humility and a desire for learning. Another aspect of the conference which helps quickly build community is that we eat all of our meals together on campus. This year the food at Washington University should be a treat, and the dining hall is filled with natural light and beautiful architecture, so our meal times should be especially enjoyable. With the community that naturally occurs comes new connections and networks of folk who often become new support groups, collaborators, and mentors/mentees.

    A local St. Louis Hymn Society member, Tom Baynham, leading us in morning worship in 2015. A local St. Louis Hymn Society member, Tom Baynham, leading us in morning worship in 2015.


    I hope you’ll come join us at this year’s conference. For more information about the conference, please visit our website.
    See you in St. Louis!

  • Behind the Scenes: Buoso's Ghost Rehearsal

    Guest post by Michael Ching

    I think every opera needs a piece early on that convinces the audience to stay engaged for the rest of it. Musical theatre has a strong tradition of an engaging opening number. It's a little more flexible in opera, but I think even classical works have that piece, whether it's Verdi's "Libiamo" or Bizet's "Habanera." Coming after Puccini's brilliant Gianni Schicchi, Buoso's Ghost has a duet at the beginning. It's sung by the young lovers, Lauretta and Rinuccio. It's tonal and passionate and designed to keep the traditional opera audience from tuning out.

    Here it is, sung by Sara Duchovnay and Kirk Dougherty as they prepare for the OperaDelaware and Baltimore Concert Opera production.


    For more on Michael Ching, check out this interview with Baltimore Concert Opera.

  • Michael Burkhardt: Featured Sacred Composer

    image of Michael Burkhardt Michael Burkhardt

    This month we got to know composer Michael Burkhardt, who is particularly known for his skill as an organist, choral clinician, hymn festival leader, and for his creative work with children.

    How did you first become involved with music?

    I became first involved with music when my grandmother, a self-trained church organist, taught me to play a few songs on the piano. I then sang in the first-ever children’s choir at the church of my growing up, a country church of 100 or so people in an unincorporated village in Wisconsin, a church where everyone seemed to sing, whether they could match pitch or not—what a gift! I began studying clarinet in sixth grade in public school and applied everything I learned in my clarinet lessons and church children’s choir experience to playing the organ at the church. By eighth grade, I was one of the organists who played on a rotational basis for worship. Hearing a live performance of Paul Manz’s Partita on St. Anne during that period convinced me forever that I needed to be involved in performing and creating music.

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

    I believe there was a creativity seed planted inside me before I was born. I have always loved making and creating things, whether it was at the keyboard or in the kitchen or shop. I never planned on becoming a composer, it seems to have just happened. My first published compositions began as organ and choral improvisations for worship and concert that were later transcribed by myself and at times, by and with my students.

    Where or when do you feel most inspired to compose?

    I am inspired to compose when I feel compelled and convicted to create a piece for worship or concert that will inspire, engage, teach, and challenge the adults and children with whom I work. I am also inspired when a text, albeit old or new, makes it way in front of me, and keeps taunting me to create a musical setting of it. I am probably most inspired when, in worship or leading a hymn festival, the singing by the congregation and choirs, enlivened by the Spirit, energizes me to create on the spot, in the moment.

    What is your favorite medium to write for?

    Choral music and hymn-based organ music.

    How much does a piece of yours change from its inception to its publication?
    • In relation to an organ piece, the published version is really a composite transcription of multiple improvisations on the same hymn tune. Hence, the organ piece for me is ever-changing, but for the performer it is what it is on the page.
    • Regarding choral editions, there is not much change.
    • Regarding choral settings of hymns, at times there is little or no change, and at other times I wonder how I could have imagined and thought that what I created would really work with singers or result in a musically satisfying offering. Thank goodness for grace and my own choirs who are willing to try out new works!
    • In relation to non-hymn based choral works, there is little or no change, but the compositional process takes much longer from inception to completion, resulting at times in several versions composed and discarded before the version that feels right emerges.
    How do you spend your time when you’re not engaged in musical activities?

    Traveling, hiking, and connecting with people, especially in coffee shops!

    What’s your next project, musical or otherwise?

    Working on organizing the materials, procedures, and processes of the Hearts, Hands and Voices Series for worship and fine arts children's programs. The series represents a variety of different kinds of musical resources to provide children’s choir leaders with creative and educationally sound resources.


    For a complete listing of Burkhardt's works published by MorningStar, click here.

    For another great story on Michael Burkhardt, check out EMU Today's article from September 2017.

    Internationally known for his innovative and inspiring hymn festivals and for his creative work with children, Michael Burkhardt is in frequent demand as a choral clinician, organ recitalist, and hymn festival leader.

    Dr. Burkhardt is Artist-Professor of Organ at Eastern Michigan University, and for the past nine years has served hearts, hands and voices Worship and Fine Arts Program as Artistic Director and Holy Cross Lutheran Church as Cantor. From 2001-2007 he served on the faculty of Carthage College (ELCA) in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as Director of Choral Activities, College Organist, and Artist in Residence. Prior to his appointment at Carthage, he was a Faculty Associate in organ at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. Dr. Burkhardt is a graduate of Carthage College, Kenosha, WI. He earned his M.M. degree from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, and his D.M.A. degree from Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

    He has performed and led seminars at both national and regional events for the American Guild of Organists, the Hymn Society, the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, and the American Choral Directors Association, and since 2003 he has made seven performance-teaching tours to South Korea and Singapore. He will return to Singapore in November of 2018 to prepare and conduct children’s and adult festival choruses for and in an Advent-Christmas concert at the Esplanade, the country’s newest and foremost concert hall. In addition, he will present several organ recitals and workshops throughout the country.

    Dr. Burkhardt is author of Part-Singing Global Style (a resource focusing on sequential part-singing techniques in treble arrangements of global pieces), Singing with Understanding (a curriculum utilizing the great hymns, folksongs and spirituals of the Church to share faith stories and to teach the elements of music and worship), Read ‘n Ring (a graded curriculum for teaching literacy to and exploring musicianship for handbell/handchime ringers), and Worship for the Young Child (a worship resource providing engaging, inclusive worship experiences for young children with teaching guides), and Creative Hymn Playing (a hymn-based improvisation method-resource for organists). He is composer of three settings of the Eucharistic liturgy, A New Song, Missa St. Andrew, and Missa Mixolydian as well as numerous organ improvisations, choral octavos and handbell compositions.

  • Judith Shatin: Roaming the Universe of Sound

    Judith Shatin

    This month we got to know Judith Shatin, composer, sound artist, community arts partner, and educator. Her music, called “something magical” by Fanfare, reflects her fascination with the arts, the sounding world, and the communicative power of music. Known for her dramatic acoustic music, she has also created a large body of path-breaking electroacoustic music. We asked her about those intersections of acoustic and electroacoustic music, and more.

    In an interview with NewMusicBox a few years ago, you spoke about studying abroad in Jerusalem, and how upon your return, you organized a composition recital rather than a typical piano recital, and how this encouraged you on your path as a composer. Did you waver following that, or were you a composer from that moment on?

    Following my return from Jerusalem for my senior year at Douglass College, I studied with the outstanding composer Robert Moevs at Rutgers College. If anything, I became even more enthralled with composition, and this led to my quest to present a senior composition recital, rather than the piano recital that was expected of me. After managing that, I never wavered in my decision to follow this path.

    You have a background and are active in computer and electronic music—you’re the founder of the Virginia Center for Computer Music at the University of Virginia. At ECS we know you as a composer of choral and vocal music. Historically these two areas don’t often go together...what do you think about that? What draws you to both?

    It’s true that choral music has not traditionally drawn composers who are engaged with digital media. However, I have personally never made any distinction between these domains. I compose for both individually, and love combining them as well. My Beetles, Monsters and Roses, for treble chorus and electronics, commissioned by the San Francisco Girls’ Chorus, was the first electroacoustic piece they performed.

    I have composed numerous acoustic choral pieces. Most recent is ‘Tis You, a setting of the beautiful poem Listening by Amy Lowell. Commissioned and premiered by the Voorhees Choir at Douglass College, my alma mater, for their Centennial, it is scored for SSA, string quartet and piano, though there is also a version for SSA and Piano. And this season, Illinois Wesleyan University, directed by Scott Ferguson, has commissioned a piece for unaccompanied SATB chorus in its ongoing choral commissioning series.

    Do you have a favorite medium to write for?

    I really don’t have a favorite medium—I love roaming around the universe of sound and what I compose just depends on the situation. My most recent piece is Ice Becomes Water, for string orchestra and electronics that I fashioned from field recordings shared by glaciologist Oskar Glowacki. This one was commissioned and just premiered by the terrific San Jose Chamber Orchestra. I chose this topic out of my concern over climate change, and a desire to join help raise awareness about it. While I don’t have a favorite medium, one of my favorite aspects of composing is collaborating with performers, and especially those who have an exploratory approach.

    Computers and composition are both fields in which women are minorities. What has your experience been like from that perspective?

    There have certainly been challenges being a women composer as well as one active in electronic media. However, I’m a determined person, and have just kept going no matter the headwinds. I have also been an advocate for contemporary composers through my service as President of American Women Composers, former board member of the League/ISCM and American Composers Alliance, and as current board member of the International Alliance for Women in Music and the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

    When do you feel most inspired to compose? What’s your compositional process like once you’re inspired?

    I don’t have an easy answer to that question. Ideas come both bidden and unbidden. What I can say is that the more involved I am in a project, the more quickly ideas come, and the more inspired I feel.

    As to process—it is a blend of conscious and unconscious. I typically start with a clear overall shape and clarity about the structural pillars. However, I am often surprised along the way. I also work through many drafts, and the process is an intricate one. It’s difficult to define one’s style, but I would say that my music is guided by underlying harmonic motion, hidden and interrupted as it sometimes is. Again, this differs considerably from piece to piece.

    You’re a very active teacher, both at the University of Virginia and at festivals and conferences. What’s your favorite topic to teach?

    Teaching is fascinating in so many ways. I enjoy the exchange of ideas, the liveliness of it all, the ‘aha’ moments that both my students and I often have. And I very much enjoy meeting students in different contexts—I have worked with very advanced students at a variety of festivals and schools, and also with some very young children, especially while involved in a project called Preserving the Rural Soundscape, which ultimately led to my Singing the Blue Ridge, for mezzo, baritone, orchestra, and electronics made from indigenous wild animal calls.

    As to favorite topics to teach—composition! But my very favorite is teaching composition as response to a particular area. For instance, one of my seminars was called Parsing the Electroacoustic, and the students read widely about perception of electroacoustic composition, as well as composing pieces in response to these readings and discussions. I also established a choral composition course at the University of Virginia. It seemed to me that this should be taught as a topic in its own right, and that is all too rare.

    How do you spend your time when you’re not engaged in musical activities?

    My time when not spent on composing has until now been taken up with teaching and the administrative work that goes along with it, though my husband (cognitive psychologist Michael Kubovy) and I always have made time for family and friends. We have also had the good fortune to team-teach ‘Psychology of Music’ and ‘The Mind of the Artist.’

    Any exciting projects on the horizon?

    I am just now stepping down from my regular teaching position at the University of Virginia to focus more exclusively on composing and other music-making activities. I am looking forward to having the time to devote to some larger projects that have been percolating for a while. First, though, in addition to the choral piece mentioned above, I have just started on a commission for mezzo and piano. My work often goes like this, jumping among  a wide variety of media. In whatever domain, it is always an exciting journey.

    Recent choral performances include Songs of War and Peace by the Southampton Choral Society, who performed it on their WWI Commemoration concert. It is a setting of four powerful poems on the topic, and is scored for SATB + piano or chamber orchestra.


    See a list of Shatin's works published by
    E. C. Schirmer here.


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