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PROGRAM NOTES - May 14, 2024

Fantasy Toccata on “Italian Hymn”
arr. Mark Miller (b. 1967)

Come, Thou Almighty King, usually sung to the tune of ITALIAN HYMN, is a Doxological hymn to the Trinity. The first verse honors the Father, Come, Thou Almighty King; the second praises Jesus, Come, Thou Incarnate Word; the third invokes the Holy Spirit, Come, Holy Comforter; culminating in the fourth verse, To Thee, great One in Three.

Penned anonymously in England in 1757, it’s speculated that this anonymity was intentional, possibly due to its original provocative use of the melody from England’s national anthem, God Save Our Gracious King. Theories about the hymn’s origins vary; some suggest it was meant to continue the sentiments of the national anthem, offering prayers first for the monarch and then for God. Others propose it was always intended as a rebellious counterpart, providing dissenters with alternative lyrics to the anthem during its performance.

Mark A. Miller believes passionately that music can change the world. His dream is that the music he composes, performs, teaches, and leads will inspire and empower people to create the Beloved Community. Mark serves as Assistant Professor of Church Music at Drew Theological School and is a Lecturer in the Practice of Sacred Music at Yale University. He also is the Minister of Music of Christ Church in Summit, New Jersey.

(notes from Yale University and HymnCharts)

Meditation on “Finlandia”
Brenda Portman (b. 1980)

Finlandia, a tone poem for orchestra by Jean Sibelius, was composed in 1899 and premiered in the composer’s native Finland, reaching an international audience the following year. The central melody is sometimes sung — with words not original to Sibelius — as the hymn Be Still, My Soul. The piece had its origins in political protest. It was written for the Finnish Press Pension Celebration of 1899, a thinly veiled rally in support of freedom of the Finnish press, then largely controlled by tsarist Russia. Sibelius’s contribution to the three-day pageant was a set of nationalistic musical tableaux. 

Brenda Portman is a distinguished concert organist and composer, currently serving as the Resident Organist and Executive Director of the Organ Concert Series at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio and as the organ instructor at Xavier University. A native of Grafton, Wisconsin, Brenda’s extensive training includes studies at Wheaton College, Northwestern University, and the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, where she earned her D.M.A. Her setting of Finlandia serves as a beautiful contrast to the preceding piece, showcasing the lush strings and flutes of the instrument.

(notes from Britannica and Brenda Portman)

Trumpet Tune on “Lyons”
Stephen Aber (b. 1988)

Y’all know I love a trumpet tune, and the Festival Trumpet here in the Chapel is delightful. I’ve used it for many weddings, but I decided it needed its own dedicated spot this evening. This hymn is one of my favorites, and it translates perfectly into this jaunty little trumpet tune. It follows a typical format: the A section is stated by a solo instrument then repeated on the full plenum, a relative minor B section with the same treatment, transitional material leading back into a second A section, and a nice big, dramatic ending - because I wrote it. so. duh? 

(notes from Stephen, if that wasn’t quite obvious)

Variations on “O Du Frohliche”
Nicholas Schmelter (b. 1982)

These variations are based on the familiar European melody given many names: O du fröhliche, O Sanctissima, and The Sicilian [Mariners] Hymn. Among diverse ethnic heritages and languages, the melodic halves (or fragments) are at times repeated to match a given sung text. In Variations to the Sicilian Hymn (Benjamin Carr, ed. Owen), an example of early printed organ music from America, the tune is treated directly and without repeats. In these new variants, the performer may choose to omit repeat signs where marked. Registrational suggestions are intended to encourage the creative use of an instrument, to best highlight a diversity of tonal color and the musical phrases. Inspired by the compositional flavors of Robert Hebble and Leo Sowerby, Variations on O du fröhliche provides listenable, fun-to-play perspectives among a modern-day polyphonic treatment.

(notes from the composer) 


Toccata from 12 Pièces pour orgue
Théodore Dubois (1837 - 1924)

Théodore Dubois is a distinguished figure in the French classical music tradition, though not as well known as others. Dubois studied at the Paris Conservatoire, where he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1861, a scholarship that funds French students to study the arts in Italy. His career was marked by notable appointments, including succeeding Camille Saint-Saëns as the organist at the Madeleine in 1877.

His Toccata in G major stands out as a particularly impressive work. This piece is structured as a lively neo-classical allegro, characterized by its brisk pace and robust energy. It features a contrasting middle section in B major, where slower notes are punctuated by brief allusions to the main thematic material. The piece concludes with a full force codetta that restates and amplifies the themes from the middle section. This piece remains a favorite among organists for its technical challenges and expressive range.

(notes from Hyperion Records)

Covidea III
Paul Ayres (b. 1970)

The ‘cantus firmus’ in the pedal part is taken fromthe genome sequence for COVID-19. Interpreting the first line of code, “attaaaggtt tataccttcc caggtaacaa accaaccaac tttcgatctc ttgtagatct,” each letter is a minim: A, G, and C are musical notes, and T is a rest. My idea was to make something beautiful, or at least pleasant, out of something that isn’t. Although written in 2020, I am not ashamed to acknowledge clear stylistic influences of composers such as Franck, Fauré, Duruflé, Stanford, Vaughan Williams and Howells.

(notes from the composer)

Toccatina on “Here Comes the Sun”
George Harrison, arr. Paul Ayres

No notes. This is simply fun and unexpected. Also I wasn’t allowed to listen to the Beatles growing up, so I only know this tune because it was in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap.

Interstellar Suite
Gibson, Zimmer & Rubin, arr. Richard McVeigh

In creating the Interstellar Suite for solo organ, Richard McVeigh set out to recreate as authentically the music from the original soundtrack by listening to the score. It would be impossible to include every note and sound from the original orchestration, but it was his aim to reproduce the effects and colors that one hears when listening to the original soundtrack. This transcription was created over many months of trial and error with much love and dedication by the arranger.

(notes from Richard McVeigh)

The Lord’s Prayer
arr. Stephen Aber

This is, of course, a familiar and beloved melody which many of us have played, sung, and heard countless times. Still, I love it, and I wanted to do something new with it back when I was recording for my COVID YouTube series. As I sat and played with triplets versus duples, communicating the words with no voice, and trying to bring some originality to such a known melody, this arrangement was born. We rarely hear the final portion, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen, done reflectively, but it felt right to me. Still though, not quite complete. It needed a forceful restatement, as if other joined in, like Christians all over the world do each Sunday, to say it again. I hope you like it. 

How Great Thou Art arr. Dan Forrest (b. 1978)

This arrangement may sound familiar, as it’s based on the instantly-recognizable choral anthem also by Dan Forrest. His anthem is the most widely-performed setting of the hymn performed today and the best, in my opinion. The setting begins with a striking introduction that gives way to a gentle, rolling accompaniment for the first verse. After the chorus, the feeling shifts to text paint the second and third verses which include forest glades, birds singing sweetly, lofty mountains, God’s Son sent to die, and our burdens gladly borne to take away our sin. After a brief interlude, it climaxes to the final verse, “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation” all the way to a final, majestic statement of the chorus that rings out in this beautiful space. 

Improvisation on “We Shall Overcome”
Charles Albert Tindley, arr. Carl Haywood (b. 1949)

This stunning setting of We Shall Overcome was premiered at the 2011 Ministers’ Conference at Hampton University in Virginia. The song served as an anthem of hope and resilience during the Civil Rights Movement. Carl Haywood’s setting is immensely rewarding to play. It begins with a brisk repeated arpeggio and gradually moves to a more stately articulation of the theme in the middle section. Finally, the opening pattern returns as the phrase we shall overcome rises and repeats multiple times, echoing the resolve, urgency, and lengthy uphill journey of those fighting to overcome inequality and exclusion. After brief pedal cadenzas, the piece ends with the full resources of the Aeolian on display.

I’ve chosen to end the program with this piece for a variety of reasons. First, I love to play it, and it needs a large instrument to differentiate the sections. Second, I’ve included mostly living composers in this evening’s repertoire. I disagree with musical “purists” who often think the only acceptable music was written before we were all born.

Finally, I’ve begun and ended the program with arrangements by Black artists. You may recall the statue of Robert E. Lee that used to reside on the exterior of the Chapel. When it was defaced and then removed in the wake of the Charlottesville, VA rally (2017), Duke President Vincent Price said:

We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination; to civil protest, not violence; to authentic dialogue, not rhetoric; and to empathy, not hatred.

Whether or not you and I agree on the removal of the statue, the renaming of Cameron Village, or such similar decisions is irrelevant. What is relevant is that responsibility to come together, like all of you wonderful people have done this evening. It’s also not lost on me that as I type these notes, the UMC has just reversed its ban on LGBTQ clergy and marriage. Again, our agreement is irrelevant. Our charge remains to work together in our differences, to find common ground toward peace and unity, to have authentic dialogue, not rhetoric, and to overcome the hatred and divisions that are sown all around us on a daily basis.

In that spirit, thank you for coming. I'm honored.
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