Browsing Tag

choral music


Veterans Celebrated with Song

December 8, 2011

During his childhood, Philadelphia CBS 3 news reporter Ukee Washington was a member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir.  A few months ago Ukee and the Philadelphia Boys Choir were ask to sing God Bless America at a Phillies National League Championship baseball game — but as most of us know, the Phillies were eliminated before that could happen.

Continue Reading…


Preserving Gospel Music and Inspiring Teenagers

July 21, 2011
Gospel for Teens

Gospel for Teens

I recently came across a 60 Minutes segment that was very moving, encouraging, and left me with goosebumps — so I had to share it with you.  The segment presented by Lesley Stahl featured a New York City program called Gospel for Teens, developed and operated by Executive Director Vy Higginsen, a long-time radio personality and theater producer.  Gospel for Teens was launched in 2006 and is still going strong today under the MaMa Foundation for the Arts. The kids have to audition and attend the weekly rehearsals to participate in Gospel for Teens, which take place in a brownstone located in Harlem, New York.  The auditions are held once a year and teenagers ranging in age from 13 to 19 are able to join the group.  The kids don’t have to be the best singers in the world or be the next American Idol,  but they do have to be able to hit a good note or two.  The teens are never charged a fee to be a member of the group.  Gospel for Teens is supported by grants, donations, and interested sponsors who wish to see the program flourish.

Ms. Higginsen was interested in teaching the importance of gospel music,  explaining how the genre is an integral part of American history.  She also found it a way to encourage New York City and New Jersey teenagers to build their confidence and self-esteem.  Vy teaches the youngsters about the roots of traditional gospel music and how it cannot be forgotten or cast aside.  Vy Higginsen feels that if she has the ability to reach the children involved in Gospel for Teens and encourage their love of music cultivated from their heritage, then maybe they’ll eventually teach it to the generations after them and continue the legacy of great music.

It was amazing to see each teenager, whether they were excited, nervous, or timid, go from the audition process and transition through a few months of work to sing with such wonderful power, spirit, and joy.  The Gospel for Teens is a program that opens up new doors for many intelligent young people and provides these individuals a way to be involved in a positive activity as well.

Click the link below to watch the story.  I truly believe you will not be disappointed with everything you see and hear.  The music that these young kids create is guaranteed to leave you in awe.  Many communities could use an organization like Gospel for Teens as a way to build hope and knock out negativity in our youth.

Click here to watch the 60 Minutes segment. 

Click here for extended CBS coverage on Gospel for Teens.

Click here to visit the mama foundation website.

Music Advocacy

Audience inCHOIRing

April 21, 2011

Have you ever attended a musical or choral event and thought, “Wow, I wish I could do that”?  Perhaps you felt so inspired after witnessing a performance and for a split second you thought, “I’m going to march right up on stage and join in on the fun!”   But, then suddenly you come to the realization that it’s probably best stick to your day job.   A crowd of lucky people  seized the opportunity to be an active part of a major choral concert and their experience is worth sharing.  

On Sunday this past February, a concert event presented by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia took place at the First Baptist Church located in the “City of Brotherly Love.”  However, this was no ordinary choral concert where people just sit in the audience listening quietly while a choir sings and instrumentalists play in the background.  Members of the audience were provided with an opportunity to help make beautiful music along with the Mendelssohn Club.

This particular musical event was part of Audience inCHOIRing and the brainchild of Mr. Alan Harler, Artistic Director of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia.  Mr. Harler developed the concept of Audience inCHOIRing after the  Mendelssohn Club’s 2009 season, when they performed a piece composed by David Lang that included choreography with the entire choir and a dance group.  At one point during the concert, members of the audience were asked to stand up and move to another part of the concert hall area.  Mr. Harler had a chance to witness all this commotion from his conductor stand and was inspired by what he saw as it seemed like the audience suddenly became involved in this musical production.

The Audience inCHOIRing event allowed individuals to learn various music styles and pieces like chants from  Durufle’s Requiem, Leonard Bernstein’s The Lark, and the world premiere of a Rollo Dilworth commission,  Rain Sequence. Mr. Harler’s idea is certainly a clever way to give a behind-the-scenes look at what happens with learning and rehearsing the songs to the point when everything comes together harmoniously, creating beautiful music like the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia does every time they present a concert.  The Mendelssohn Club has started a very innovative trend and perhaps they’ll present more Audience inCHOIRing concerts in the future.  Will other music groups follow suit and incorporate audience participation within their performances?  Surely, time will tell!

Directors' Toolbox

Small Groups during Slim Summer Sundays

April 19, 2011

Having been a church choir director now for many years, I have been faced with the dilemma of what to do during the slim summer months when my choir members are on vacations or spending the weekends at the lake with their children.  My church is one that doesn’t like the music program to take a break during the summer months, so I have to find creative ways to utilize the choir members that I have even when I am left with only one or two sopranos, or one or two men.

Last year I tried something different that went over very well for me and I want to pass the idea along because it worked out so well!  I asked my choir members to give me their vacation schedules early, and I put together small groups to fill the void of the missing choir during our worship services.  I had a ladies trio, a male quartet, a ladies ensemble, and a mixed ensemble.

I was able to choose appropriate music for each of these groups through  I found material that was easy to learn and that my congregation felt was blessed;  but more importantly, during the difficult summer months when I didn’t have a full choir present for rehearsals, I was able to use my regularly scheduled rehearsal time for my small group and still program new and valuable music that ministered to our congregation.  Music ministers are often called upon to be creative and work with what they have, and this worked so well for me last year that I am planning a full summer like this again this year!

The Pepper Difference

ACDA: Experience the Music Online!

March 10, 2011

Thousands of choral directors are gathered this week in in Chicago for the 2011 American Choral Directors Association National Conference.   There are many opportunities that have attendees enthusiastic about the conference this year:  amazing performances and intriguing sessions to attend, networking and socializing opportunities with other directors, and access to a vibrant exhibit hall where directors and the companies that serve them come together for idea exchanges on a grand scale.   Members of the Pepper team are here as well, of course, and this year, as the sponsor of the Repertoire and Standards Reading Sessions, we have something special for you.

Whether you are able to be in  Chicago or not, you can still experience the music from the event.  When you visit you will be able to listen to and see music selected for the 13 different Repertoire and Standards sessions.  We post as much music and recording as the publisher allows.   In most cases, full-length recordings and octavos are available for you.  You can even bookmark or type notes about the music, and refer to those any time you wish.  There is much work done by the ACDA committee members throughout the country to bring these works to light, and we’re happy to provide this free service to highlight their work.  As this service is exclusive for Pepper customers, we will ask you to log in to use ACDA Online.

In addition to the Repertoire and Standards session music, some publishers will also make music featured in their sessions available after the conference.  We welcome you to come experience the music.   We wish you could all make it to Chicago, but if you can’t, we invite you to visit to experience the music from the conference.

We hope you enjoy ACDA Online!


The Margil Mass

February 2, 2011
San Antonio Missions

The Missions of San Antonio

Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, composer Ronnie Sanders remembers the five beautiful, historic missions in San Antonio as a natural part of his heritage, upbringing and culture.  On June 9, 2010, he once again toured the San Jose Mission, where he saw an exhibit displaying some of the history of the founding priest, Father Antonio Margil (1657-1726).  Sanders saw Margil’s clerical garments and book of prayers containing scripture verses and prayers in Latin that Father Margil used in the mission almost 300 years ago.

Once inside the chapel, Sanders commented on his reflections. “I began singing some chant-like music.  Each note seemed to reverberate and echo inside this room.”  Sanders marveled at the chapel’s “gorgeous, cathedral-like acoustics.”  It was at that moment he became inspired to compose a work that would honor this historic chapel and its founder, Father Antonio Margil.

Moved and motivated, Sanders returned to the exhibit and wrote down some scripture verses and prayers from Father Margil’s very own book of prayers that comprise the text of this new work.  Sanders’ Margil Mass was written during the week of June 20 – 25, 2010.

The work is in five movements, each about 5-6 minutes in length, and is scored for unaccompanied choir.  Each of the five movements may be performed separately or together in a choral-concert session, or it may be used in a church service.  The premiere of this work will be performed by the choral artists of Bel Cantare in San Antonio, Texas on February 27, 2011.  The concert will be conducted by the composer.  The vocal ensemble Bel Cantare was formed in order to present the Margil Mass.  For more information, please visit  Sanders’ complete bio may be found at  For more information about the San Antonio missions, please visit the mission’s website:

This post provided courtesy of guest blogger Nancy Scarsdale, a freelance writer from Texas and member of the Board of Directors for the Choral Ensemble Bel Cantare, San Antonio, Texas.


Rejoice in the Small Choir

January 27, 2011
Slim Sunday Music

Music for Slim Sundays

It has been long-standing tradition that if you are a church choir member, you sing SATB music.  I don’t know when this became the norm, but for music ministers and choir directors, it’s almost an unspoken rule.  As a singer you are rarely affected.  As a director, adherence to singing SATB music can sometimes create programming problems and unnecessary headaches.

We’ve all encountered these issues in one way or another:

Scenario #1:  It’s Sunday morning and half of the tenor  (or bass)  section is out sick, or is visiting family.  The anthem you rehearsed on Wednesday night is now a shell of its former glory and sounds empty and uninspiring.  What do you do?  You should be able to reach into your library and pull out an “old standard.”  The problem with that is… you need your tenors for that, too.

Scenario #2:  It’s mid-May and your choir members are experiencing a bit of spring fever.  Your numbers are cut in half.  The men’s sections are half the size of the women’s sections on a normal Sunday.  Now they are really exposed, along with the rest of the choir.  What do you program?

Modern composers are not only writing great worship music, they are also experiencing it as many are church choir directors themselves.  They too know exactly what it’s like on those musically awkward slim Sundays.  Consequently, they have provided us a wealth of  music for smaller choirs that is creative, rich and worshipful.  One listen will erase any stigma the letters SAB might have carried with them before.

I encourage you to browse through the music listed below for smaller choirs.  The ranges are appropriate, the music is detailed and hearty, and the message is not simplified.   There is no need to panic or rearrange parts on a slim Sunday.  The tools you need for successful worship can be as close as your library shelves.  They can quickly derail any dilemma you might have in the choir room without diminishing your worship experience.

Click here for inspiring music for smaller choirs to add to your library.


Choral Conversations: Mary McDonald

January 12, 2011

Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Mary McDonald, a multi-talented musician from Knoxville, Tennessee.  In addition to her work as a composer, arranger, producer, pianist, and organist, she was a sacred choral editor for The Lorenz Corporation for nearly twenty years and currently serves as the organist for Central Baptist Church in Knoxville.  Her music and talents have blessed choirs and congregations across the country for more than twenty-five years.

Mary is the composer of more than 700 published choral anthems, several Christmas and Easter cantatas, and numerous keyboard collections, and still serves as an editorial consultant for Lorenz.  She is also active as a choral clinician, traveling throughout the United States conducting workshops and concertizing.  Her unique blend of heart, hands, and humor, combined with a wide range of writing and performing styles, keeps her in constant demand.  One of Mary’s greatest joys has been serving as accompanist for the Tennessee Men’s Chorale since 1985.  In 2000, Mary served as the first woman President of the Southern Baptist Church Music Conference.  She is a member of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).  Mary was recently awarded second place by the John Ness Beck Foundation for her composition Yes, My Jesus Loves Me.

Thank you so much, Mary, for taking time from your busy schedule to answer a few questions for us! 

When did you begin in music?

I have been playing piano by ear since I was five years of age.  I have a sister who would work the pedals for me since my feet wouldn’t reach the floor.  At first, our mother thought it was one of my older sisters who had been taking lessons but soon realized it was her youngest, playing with both hands the hymns from the church services earlier that day.  I have never had piano lessons.

Did you have an “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?

When I was in high school, I walked to Central Baptist Church many afternoons while waiting on my mom to get off work.  In 1970, our church installed a lovely Shantz pipe organ and our organist was practicing most days when I was there.  When she left, I asked our interim music minister for a key, telling him I was “studying” organ (just watching, actually).  The first time I rolled back the lid, I put my Algebra book on the rack  and began playing music.  I tried to make it sound like church music but was playing Elton John, movie themes, and improvised classical literature.  I loved the power of the pipe organ and the freedom to express myself through music.

What kind of things inspire you?

I am inspired most often by the text.  Once I read a scripture or hymn text, I begin forming music around the words and finding a style that best shapes the message through music.  At that point, either the text or rhythmic hook becomes the seed from which the notes spring forth into a song.  It’s an art form in that the creation of one part leads to the next until it feels complete.

What inspired you to become a composer?

After graduating from Carson-Newman College in East Tennessee, I took my first organ position at Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Knoxville.  Since I could not read music very well, I would improvise the service music.  My music minister gave me a cassette of several offertories and encouraged me to write them down.  With my husband’s help and theory knowledge, we literally drew lines on paper and transcribed five organ arrangements and submitted them to the Baptist Sunday School Board.  They were accepted for publication in Pedalpoint magazine.  A couple of years later, John Purifoy moved to Knoxville to begin a publishing company and was introduced to me by my music minister at Central Baptist.  He asked me if I had composed choral music and I told him of my inability to write texts.  He suggested scripture or hymn texts and, taking his advice, I penned my first choral anthem, Seek First the Kingdom in 1983.

What would you say defines your style?

I don’t limit my creativity to one particular style of music.  I love to write big, traditional hymn settings for piano or organ (or both), and feel equally at home with contemporary choral settings of praise and worship choruses.  The gospel arrangements are always fun to score and play but I enjoy venturing out beyond those styles on occasion and just letting the music guide the way.  Regardless of musical style, my accompaniments will always be full, supportive and sometimes challenging!

Tell me one thing that people might not know about you.

I am married to my high-school sweetheart.  Prior to dating my husband, Brian, I actually went out with his brother for nearly a year.  Poor Brian had to sit in the back seat when his dad would drive me and his brother to school dances!  What can I say, it’s Tennessee. 🙂

What are you working on now?

I am collaborating with Pamela Martin and Larry Shackley on a new Christmas cantata for Fall 2011.  After this is completed, I plan to go back to my roots and write some organ music.  I haven’t written any organ solos since the late 1970s.

What is your favorite choral piece (by another composer)?

Then Will the Very Rocks Cry Out  (Hayes)

Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing?

Follow your passion and gifts.  God has been my personal GPS in putting the right people in my path at the right time.  It takes dedication and perseverance and an open mind.  There is a difference between composing and publishing, and it’s easy to lose focus.  If you write your heart and gain pleasure and satisfaction from doing it, publishing doesn’t matter;  it’s the icing on the cake.  Too many people write to get published and are missing the greater purpose.

Would you say that music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning or by sudden inspiration?

Both… I have worked weeks trying to craft an anthem and others have come in ten minutes.  I wish I knew the secret… but there’s usually a reason one takes longer than another.  In the end, each anthem is like a page in my diary;  a story for that moment and a part of the journey.

What are your favorite texts to set to music?

Hymn texts.

What is your favorite thing about composing?

When I finish a song that I’m excited about and only me and the Lord know about it!  I thank Him and ask His blessings on it… then send to the commissioning church or a publisher.

Inside the Actors Studio-Type Questions: 

  1. What is your favorite word?     Peace
  2. What is your least favorite word?     Hurry
  3. What sound or noise do you love?     Laughter
  4. What sound or noise to you hate?     Scottish bagpipes (not Irish)
  5. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?    Politician
  6. What is your favorite composition?     Be Still  (new with Beckenhorst)
  7. What is on your i-Pod?     I need to get one!  Anybody feeling generous?
  8. Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, living or dead?     John Ness Beck
  9. If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would it be?     John Williams

Is there anything else you would like to share with us? 

I am so grateful for Geoff Lorenz, Larry Pugh, and my extended family at Lorenz Corporation, who gave me an incredible opportunity to serve as Editor of Sacred Choral Music from 1991-2010.  Their patience, trust, support, and encouragement carried me through almost twenty years of music composition, editing, and publishing, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without their influence.  We are all grateful to the incredible work of J.W. Pepper for giving wings to our products and for all you do for the cause of sacred and educational music.  May God continue to bless our collective efforts.  

Thank you, Mary, for your time and for letting all of us get to know you a little better.  If you want to get to know Mary even better, the best thing would be to check out some of her many compositions.  You can find them here .