Standing in the St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Hanover, Pennsylvania, it is not difficult to see how the beauty of religious devotion can inspire someone like Lloyd Larson to create such splendid choral pieces. Indeed, Larson considers himself a product of the church his family attended while growing up in Illinois.
No discussion of sacred and church choral music is complete without including the works of composer Joel Raney. Raney’s contribution to sacred music is widely celebrated by choir members and directors.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As a musician and a person who deals with both the music business and the deaf world, I assumed as many do that students with hearing loss would never hear, understand or appreciate music.
Fortunately, as I began talking with fellow interpreters in schools, I learned that many deaf children (both with and without hearing aids and cochlear implants) were in music classes. This was enlightening and encouraged me to investigate instrumental music classes for deaf students and the incorporation of sign language into choral programs.
One of the first schools to teach music to deaf students was the Illinois School for the Deaf. They allowed the resident boys the opportunity to participate in a brass band. The band was supported by state and private funds throughout its nearly twenty-year existence. It gave students a musical outlet, provided functional music and entertainment for the other resident students as well as community members, and became a symbol of strength and ability among members of the deaf community. Fred Fancher, a deaf bandmaster from Tennessee, conducted the band. The band ensemble presented concerts in many towns and cities throughout the United States. NAfME reported that the quality of the music produced by the boys was very good. The band received a fair amount of criticism along with a vast amount of praise and was a most successful and meaningful endeavor. Even though the band has been defunct for more than fifty years, some music classes and activities at the Illinois School for the Deaf are still offered to students.
As more and more hearing-impaired children participated in the instrumental music program, it was discovered that, like hearing children, the ability to play an instrument helped the deaf children alleviate their frustration. Tim Lautzenhauser states in his book, The Art of Successful Teaching, “Music offers a chance to let go and express the rainbow of emotions we all feel, and through this experience expand our own realm of emotional expressions.”
The children were taught by developing a strong sense of rhythm, followed by breathing exercises, hand clapping, marching and body swaying to standard repertoire such as Old Mac Donald Had a Farm. Some children were able to play by reading the score. Just like with hearing children, music notations represents two things; a hand position on an instrument, and a time frame. However, the deaf child cannot “improvise” and must depend totally on sight-reading the music. Many deaf children remove their shoes for band or orchestra practice to be able to feel the rhythm from the other instruments.
According to the research done by Alice-Ann Darrow in 1989, schools offering music to deaf students start most students with understanding about how to keep a steady beat. Once that concept is understood, the next step is rhythmic training, and from there they advance to notation, tempo markings, and dynamic structure. Sound is not as much an issue as understanding the structure of music: how the notes blend and the individual attributes of the notes, which finger positions produce a note, and how long to hold whole notes, half notes and quarter notes.
Band and orchestra instructors require support when teaching deaf students. Parents, special education teachers, and audiologists can all offer help working with deaf students in the music classroom. The expense of this individual support is costly and oftentimes the interpreter has no music knowledge, making the job more difficult. As with most tasks, simply asking the deaf students what works is the best way to proceed. Let them lead in this area of their development.
Both digital hearing aids and cochlear implants have difficulty transmitting the fine tones of musical structure to the listener. It will be interesting to see how improvements in these aids will allow children to experience the joy of music in the future.
As the incorporation of sign language becomes more popular for both hearing and deaf children, many composers have added information about sign language (along with the actual signs) to their music.
Please view these musical selections which will help you bring signing and singing into your musical programs.
Are you getting ready for Christmas, or are you getting ready for Advent? Advent is the season of expectant waiting and anticipation that is celebrated by most Western Christian churches beginning the 4th Sunday before Christmas Day.
You may not realize that what you thought of as your favorite Christmas songs are actually Advent songs. Songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” are just a few of my personal favorite Advent tunes.
This year, the First Sunday of Advent is December 2. Some churches have a strict rule of only playing Advent music during the Advent season. Other churches are anxious for Thanksgiving to be done so that they can start singing Christmas carols. Whatever your specific tradition might be, I would encourage you to check out some of the new Advent arrangements for this year. Who knows, you might just find some new favorites!
If you are looking for some suggestions, check out the following:
Mark Hayes has a beautiful new Advent piece, “Awaken and Prepare Us,” that adds an exciting anticipatory feel using the hymn “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” in one of the verses.
Joseph Martin (one of my personal favorite composers) has a beautiful new composition filled with longing titled “O Come to Us, Emmanuel” that uses snippets of the familiar Advent tune.
Maybe you want something that is more like a spiritual? Then check out this new Larry Shackley a cappella piece with percussion. “The World’s Been a-Waitin’ So Long” is contagiously catchy and fun.
There are so many fantastic Advent pieces out there. I invite you to check more of them out using our Editors’ Choice Online. You can listen to complete recordings and see full octavos BEFORE you purchase. I know you will find the perfect piece to suit your needs.