Jeff Wilson rehearsing the College Choir
What a great three days I enjoyed in Illinois as the guest composer for the 32nd annual Greenville College Schoenhals Fine Arts Symposium. A Thursday night concert and a Friday morning college chapel performance of seven pieces wove around seven classes, a composer master class, rehearsals, a coaching, a reception, a tour of the college radio station… and lots and lots of eating.
Anthems O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, The Word of God, and God So Loved the World, along with last year’s commission from Lyric Fest and Singing City, The Heavens Declare, were sung gorgeously by the Greenville College choirs and the Greenville Free Methodist Sanctuary Choir, all excellently prepared and conducted by Jeff Wilson, who along with being the Director of Choral Activities and Music Department Chair at GC, directs the music at the church.
Chris Woods, who teaches music theory, composition, low brass, and is an excellent bass trombonist, led the brass quintet in two works of mine, a newly refurbished St. Theodulph March (on the hymn tune to “All Glory, Laud, and Honor”) and my arrangement of Benedetto Marcello’s Psalm 19. They also used the brass arrangement I had made for O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and one I put together two weeks ago for The Word of God.
Soprano Caitlin Hadeler sang brilliantly my Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, with riveting accompaniment by Catherine Burge. I was so happy to have met Catherine a couple of months ago for coffee on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, where we talked over the songs; she was in town for a workshop. Caitlin is brand-new at the college and simply won everyone over with her reading of these fairly challenging songs, and surprised me by doing them from memory (after using music at the rehearsal). Good show!
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, The Word of God and The Heavens Declare were repeated for the chapel, where I also spoke about what it’s like to be a composer with faith in a world that is often without it. I chose the text of John 21:1–14, wondering why on earth John would tell us that there were 153 fish in the net. The Schoenhals Symposium was founded to explore the interaction of creativity and Christian faith.
Chris Woods was my second composition teacher, back when I was beginning my college career at Philadelphia College of Bible, now Cairn University. He is as humble, unassuming, supportive, and spiritual a soul now as he was then. And he still rocks the bass trombone. I was blessed to have known him then, honored to know him now, and thankful to have shared a few days with him. I’m so glad we renewed our friendship a few years back.
Sarah Todd accompanied the choir beautifully; thanks to her and to all the staff at GC who put the details together to make this happen. Thanks to the faculty for inviting me into their music, theology, and communications classes, and to the church choir for letting me insinuate myself into their bass section at rehearsal! A special thanks to the Schoenhals family—specifically, Carolyn and Dale Martin—for their support, their warm welcome, and for keeping such an enriching idea alive. Greenville’s a great place to be.