Dan Forrest is a man who believes “all good things, including any beauty that we encounter, are from God, through God, and ultimately to God.” It is from this basis that he has made his career as a composer.
On the cusp of 40, Paul Mealor has already built a legacy of musical excellence. His journey started at the young age of 10 when he began learning from teacher and composer William Mathias. Mathias is probably best known for composing an anthem specifically for the wedding ceremony of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981.
Kim André Arnesen is one of today’s most promising young choral composers. As a child growing up in Norway, Arnesen developed a love for choral music after joining the Boys’ Choir at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. An accomplished pianist as well, he found himself most drawn to requiems, especially Mozart’s. It was in listening to these classics that Arnesen first wondered if he himself could also write music.
He purchased a music notation program and began to experiment. It did not take long for a few of his pieces to catch the attention of local musicians. Arnesen’s popularity in Norway grew quickly. By the time he completed his own Requiem, he was popular enough to have his piece “Even When He Is Silent” chosen for Christmas in Norway, a television program featuring the St. Olaf Choir broadcast nationally in Norway and by PBS in the United States.
It was during that performance that Kim Arnesen’s music caught the attention of David Donathan, director of the West Virginia Opus Chorale. Donathan was so taken by Arnesen’s music that he began searching for more information about Arnesen immediately. After an extensive search, Donathan found that Arnesen’s Requiem wasn’t in print yet. He even went so far as to contact Kim Arnesen to request the piece, which turned out to be a providential discussion. The two agreed that an American premiere of the piece was warranted and that the West Virginia Opus Chorale should be the ensemble to premiere it.
From there, Arnesen’s popularity in the United States has grown exponentially and will likely continue to increase with his Magnificat. In this piece, Arnesen explores the story of the Annunciation to Mary and what she must have felt upon being told she was to give birth to the Son of God. The piece explores themes of care for the poor, as Mary herself was of humble means, and does so beautifully.
For many in the music world, it has been an immense pleasure to watch Arnesen come into his own. No doubt, we are witnessing the rise of a new young talent who we hope will continue to grace us with his music for years to come.
Known to be one of the most versatile composers and arrangers of our time, Mark Hayes is popular with both worship and secular choirs. He bridges the gap between style and content, making his music accessible to anyone who loves to sing. No doubt, his ability to write songs that appeal to the identities of many different choirs is what has made him one of the most widely performed contemporary composers.
Hayes started young, stepping into a career as an arranger soon after he graduated. Though he never thought of himself as a composer early on, he soon found he had a knack for creating new pieces. Te Deum, Hayes’ first major work, was commissioned by a friend for the Wayland Baptist College Choir. He would conduct this piece himself not long after the Wayland Baptist College performance, during his first appearance at Carnegie Hall.
While Hayes is widely loved for his compositions for full choir, he has also written beautiful pieces meant to showcase the solo voice. Songs of Celebration and Joy, for example, is one of his most popular collections and an exuberant ode to the solo voice. Lately, he has continued to explore the unbridled potential of solo performance. His latest addition to his best-selling vocal solo collections is 10 Inspirational Songs for Solo Voice. It brings together ten of the most beloved inspirational songs in one collection arranged by Hayes.
But in true Mark Hayes fashion, he identified another need and created music to fulfill it. As a frequent composer and performer of music used in worship services, Hayes recognized the occasional need for shorter pieces. Not all services are the same, but most need music to complete them. With this in mind, he has created Mark Hayes Miniatures for piano. This collection includes a number of hymns arranged for shorter playing time as well as five original pieces of his own. Each piece in the collection is between one and a half and two and a half minutes. They are ideal for smaller churches and include pieces for liturgies all year round.
Perhaps his most ambitious recent work, however, is Requiem. This six-movement work was originally written to be premiered at a concert at Lincoln Center. Later, however, Hayes was given the opportunity to perform Requiem at the historic St. Ignatius Basilica in Rome. Music lovers all over the world have been graced with hearing this lovely piece, and it has been received by the music community with open arms, but it holds a special place in Hayes’ heart for a very touching reason.
Hayes’ parents were an important influence in his life and, while neither were professional musicians, the family filled their home with music. To honor his parents, Hayes has dedicated his Requiem to their memory. This final proclamation of his love for his parents is a beautiful sentiment that will undoubtedly move the hearts of many.
Such is the power of Mark Hayes’ music. He has, for many years and hopefully many more, enriched the lives of all those touched by his music. What will come next for Mark Hayes, only he can guess – but the music world is certainly richer for his contributions.
Joseph Martin is one of the most influential composers in sacred music today. His music has graced countless congregations and led many to consider with awe the glory of creation. From a very young age, this was his mission. Martin grew up in North Carolina, the son of a minister and a church pianist. Music and faith blended together for him from the very beginning of his life.
When he was young, his family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where his father took over a large urban congregation. While the city was new for Martin, nothing about his love of faith and music changed. In fact, while living in Florida, he met one of his greatest influences – a piano teacher named Esther Chilson. A woman of faith, Chilson would pray over her student’s hands and ears before every lesson. Only an adolescent at the time, Martin saw great beauty in this practice and continued to learn how tightly music and faith are intertwined.
“I’m always looking for that next song, the next way of telling the old, old story in a brand-new way.”
Seven days a week, all year round, Joseph Martin is working hard on his next great piece. He works in isolation, having built his own small studio in his home. There, he toils away at the piano, singing the lines and perfecting each melody, sharing his heart and faith with every note.
As part of our ongoing series of interviews, Pepper had the opportunity to sit down with arranger and composer Heather Sorenson. A church pianist since the age of 7, Heather has lived in the midst of sacred music for her entire life. She began arranging as a junior high school student after coming in second in a performance competition to a young woman who had arranged her own piece. For the next ten years, Heather made a name for herself as a talented and knowledgeable pianist with a profound talent for arranging sacred music.
It was composer Joe Martin who first approached Heather Sorenson about creating her own original piece. At the time, she felt embarrassed about the fact that she had never composed before, but she agreed to try. The result was “God of Heaven,” the song that put Heather on the map in the choral industry.
According to Heather, the greatest inspiration comes from her personal faith journey. She lets her music reflect her relationship with God and the experiences she has had. Her pieces are often inspired by words or excerpts from religious texts that have spoken to her over the years. This inspiration can come from both contemporary and traditional worship styles, and she is known to blend these two sources in unique ways. Above all, however, is her drive to bring authenticity to every piece she writes. In her mind, it is this level of authenticity that has led to the popularity of her pieces in such a wide range of worship communities.
Her latest project is a Christmas cantata called “The Silence and the Sound.” The inspiration for this piece came to her while reading through the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” which she uses as the anchor for the cantata. The forty-minute piece is set for SATB choir with optional solos, children’s choir, and congregation participation.
Look at any extensive library of musical literature and you will see not one, but many books by James Jordan. No writer is more prolific in the realm of vocal technique, rehearsal strategies, conducting, and what it takes to succeed in the world of choral music. Jordan is a professor and the Senior Conductor at Westminster Choir College, conducting Westminster Schola Cantorum and the Westminster Williamson Voices.
He is the recipient of a number of awards and has gained critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. Pepper Editor Chris Titko was able to sit down with Mr. Jordan and discuss a number of topics ranging from his introduction to music to his latest book.
Perhaps most fascinating is the story of how James Jordan came to be interested in choral conducting. Surprisingly, he was not a serious musician until he entered Susquehanna University. After two years of pre-med, Jordan decided to change his major to music. He was rejected after his first audition, but his determination impressed the Music Education Department and he was enrolled. Though he never sang in high school, James Jordan fell in love with choral music while attending a Luther College Choir concert with his now wife.
Mr. Jordan also talks about his book The Musician’s Soul and its importance as a starting block for choral conducting. In this book, he has compiled a number of different conducting philosophies in one easily accessible place. He has succeeded in creating a comprehensive text that is perfect for a young conductor looking to take that first step toward becoming a professional.
Jordan also speaks to the emotional aspect of conducting a choir in the video The Human Connection. Among the most important facets of music are the shared feelings of the performers. He describes a trip to a local middle school where one of his students worked and was shocked at the difficulty of the pieces his student had chosen. What was more striking, however, was how the students not only rose to the challenge but also bonded together through their love of the music.
There is much more to learn and enjoy in this video playlist. Click here to view them all.
Listen as composer John Rutter delves deeply into the importance of choir in all aspects of life. He shares his own love of music with us as he discusses the many places music enters our lives and changes who we are. Please enjoy these few words of wisdom from one of music’s greatest minds:
For great pieces by composer John Rutter, click here.
John Rutter: The Importance of Choir
**Anyone using either video or transcripts of the interview must credit it as John Rutter’s words, taken from the video.
Choral music is not one of life’s frills. It’s something that goes to the very heart of our humanity, our sense of community, and our souls. You express, when you sing, your soul in song. And when you get together with a group of other singers, it becomes more than the sum of the parts. All of those people are pouring out their hearts and souls in perfect harmony, which is kind of an emblem for what we need in this world, when so much of the world is at odds with itself…that just to express, in symbolic terms, what it’s like when human beings are in harmony. That’s a lesson for our times and for all time. I profoundly believe that.
And musical excellence is, of course, at the heart of it. But, even if a choir is not the greatest in the world, the fact that they are meeting together has a social value. It has a communal value. And I always say that a church or a school without a choir is like a body without a soul. We have to have a soul in our lives. And everybody tells me, who has sung in a choir, that they feel better for doing it. That whatever the cares of the day, if they maybe meet after a long day’s school or work, that somehow you leave your troubles at the door. And when you’re sitting there, making music for a couple hours at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters at that moment. And you walk away refreshed. You walk away renewed. And that’s a value that goes just beyond the music itself.
Of course, as a musician, I put the music at the heart of it, but all of these other values just stand out as a beacon. I think our politicians need to take note…my gosh do they ever! [laughs], and our educators, those who decide education budgets, church budgets, just need to remember it’s not a frill. It’s like a great oak that rises up from the center of the human race and spreads its branches everywhere. That’s what music does for us. And choral music must stand as one of the supreme examples of it.
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When you hear the name John Rutter, your mind automatically jumps to the thought of Christmas music. What makes Rutter’s name so synonymous with Christmas? We had a chance to sit down with John and talk about why he and Christmas go hand in hand.