Category Archives: Organ music

Kyrie and Gloria Patri


Kyrie and Gloria Patri. For congregation and organ, with cantor or choir (opt. SATB). The choir may sing in parts or unison. In the Kyrie the choir or a solo voice may be cantor. Separate congregation part available for bulletin. Commissioned by the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Daniel Spratlan, music director, and Cynthia A. Jarvis, minister.

I have composed a Kyrie, a “Lord, have mercy,” before, in the Mass for Philadelphia, but never a separate Gloria Patri (the words traditionally end Magnificat settings, and I do have several of those). Dan Spratlan has begun to commission settings for his Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, and asked me for one, to be used beginning in the fall of 2017.

It is bliss to write challenging music for professionals, but is in some ways even more delightful to write successful music for amateurs. The largest group of amateurs who sing new music every week is the church congregation. I’ve composed hymn and liturgical settings for congregations most of my career.

While the difference in musical abilities between amateurs and professionals may be great, the composer’s challenge—and honor—is always the same: to serve them, to help them sound their best, and to reveal truths.

The musical opportunities in small forms like this Kyrie and Gloria Patri are as profound as one wishes to make them. To create dramas through the text while not obscuring the line is a useful craft no matter what the music is, but the task is heightened in music for a congregation, since the moment a congregation is unsure of itself, it stops singing. The music must always support and encourage the congregation, and thankfully, every facet of music is available to assist in that task.

I’ve done something slightly new in this. It is not unheard of in choral music, but it doesn’t happen often, where voices will depart here and there from a “doubling” accompaniment. You’ll see an example in the alto line in measure 5 above, at “have”; the altos sing a D while the organ plays a C. It is not only to avoid the direct 5th (and avoiding those as we were taught is, yes, generally a good idea—although I kept it in the organ part). There were other ways to fix that fifth. No, it rather comes out of thinking of the choir and organ as part of an ensemble—an orchestra, if you will—where lines follow their own lights and are not simply copies of each other. I first noticed this only a few years ago in a Wagner chorus I was singing. The choral bass part did something other than what the orchestral basses were playing (and what I’d expected), and it charmed me.

If an SATB choir is available, it will sing what it sings and won’t get in the way of the congregation. And that’s the other challenge the composer is constantly trying to solve—to get out of the way.

(The Gloria Patri is in G major and the Kyrie is actually in a mode, G dorian, even though it ends more on B-flat. A certain fuzziness in cadencing can be appropriate, I feel, if that conflict in mood helps to drive home the feeling of the text. A Kyrie should offer comfort only with the knowledge that one who is unworthy of comfort falls completely on mercy. That is why I do not hear the last chord as an add 6 (Bb+6) or a Gm7/Bb, even though it is both of those. I’m not sure, in this context, what the chord is.)


Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


Reflection. organ, 6′

FredJCooperOrganBook.jpgI was commissioned, along with four other composers—Matthew Glandorf, David Schelat, Kathleen Scheide, and Jeffrey Brillhart—to write a work for the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ in Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the organ’s installation.

Although the works were meant to be standalone pieces, we were assigned an order and a description of the types of pieces desired. Overall, the AGO chapter requested music that would serve for as many occasions as possible, not just for the sacred services for which most organ literature is created.

The description assigned to me was “Slow and introspective, perhaps an aria.” The title, Perhaps an Aria, tempted me greatly, along the lines of President Eisenhower’s famous quote to Leonard Bernstein, “I liked that last piece you played; it’s got a theme. I like music with a theme, not all them arias and barcarolles.” Bernstein then wrote, of course, his Arias and Barcarolles.

Privately, I like poking fun (and being made fun of in return), but shy away from it in public. So, I turned from Perhaps an Aria and settled on the more neutral title, Reflection. I recall that, in early drafts of the piece, literal reflections of the rising melodic intervals of thirds, fourths, and so on appeared, but except for echoes buried deeply, those did not survive the compositional process. Nevertheless, the title stands, taking its place somewhere between a sacred Meditation and a secular Reverie.

The wonderful organist David Furniss, Dean of the AGO Philadelphia Chapter, premiered this on June 10th, 2017, as part of the Organ Day celebrations at Kimmel’s Verizon Hall. The five works in this Fred J. Cooper Organ Book are published by ECS Publishing to coincide with the premiere. Here, David rehearses the piece on the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ the day before the premiere, and below, the first page of my score, before going off to the engravers:

The American Organist, Sept. 2014, p. 26

TAO.Sep2014A blurb about organ and choral premieres, along with my mug shot, in TAO this month because I used the simple technique of mentioning the names of organist Alan Morrison, Abington Presbyterian Church‘s music director John Sall, the Church of the Holy Trinity‘s music director John French, and The Rev. Alan Neale, Rector of CHT.
These—all—are wonderful people with whom to be mentioned. I must keep doing this. The projects we worked on were the Two Meditations on Freu dich sehr for organ, and for SATB on a Shakespeare text, And Good in Every Thing.
And my photo is across the page from Emma Lou Diemer‘s!

Two Meditations on Freu dich sehr, at Ursinus College


Alan Morrison plays my Two Meditations on Freu dich sehr at Ursinus College today at 4:00, on the Heefner Organ in his recital in Bomberger Auditorium. Along with being head of the organ departments at the Curtis Institute of Music and Westminster Choir College of Rider University, Alan is the College Organist at Ursinus.

As I’m singing on two choir concerts today, I can’t be in Collegeville to hear one of the great organists play, and grr. But I’ll be having fun singing with the Franklinville/Schwarzwald Männerchor at the regional Liederabend at the Canstatter Volksfest Verein in Philadelphia.

Then it’s over to the Ann’s Choice Community in Warminster to sing a concert with the 35-voice Musica Concordia. Jackie directs, and among the Lenten pieces on the program will be my Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts.

My notes about Two Meditations are hereAlan played brilliantly at the premiere a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll certainly miss not hearing him play today. Thank you, Alan!

Premiered: Two Meditations on Freu dich sehr

organpipesblueCue the snow.

Postponed a month by two snowstorms that had knocked out the power for a couple days at Abington Presbyterian Church in Abington, Pa., Two Meditations on Freu dich sehr received its premiere yesterday on the Dedicatory Concert for the Organ Restoration Campaign of the 1969 Möller organ. Alan Morrison played my work on an exquisitely performed program with J. S. Bach, Johann Bernard Bach, Widor, Duruflé, Vierne, Anne Wilson, and John Weaver. This was part of the 300th Anniversary celebrations of Abington Presbyterian Church.

My notes about the piece are hereAlan was remarkable, exploiting the tonal expansiveness of the instrument in Two Meditations and in brilliant and lucid playing throughout the program.

Music Director John Sall and I had two goals for the piece. We wanted it to be worthy of this occasion and of Alan’s tremendous gifts, but we also wanted it to serve afterward as a work useful in church settings by organists everywhere. The Two Meditations are “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” and (the last phrase from the hymn’s last verse), “That His Word Is Never Broken.” These could be used as Prelude and Postlude, for instance.

Organists at the concert have been asking for copies of the music, and Alan and I are mulling over some registrations, so after some polishing up of the score, it’ll be ready soon. If you’d like a look, just let me know (contact information’s in the sidebar to the right).

We’re all relieved that we got the concert in, after that snow delay. Woke up this morning of March 17th and looked out the window. It’s snowing.

Alan Morrison Premiere Snow-Postponed until March 16th

organpipesblueJust got done telling someone how much I love snow; that’ll teach me. It is the indirect cause—the snow, not my telling, I hope—of the postponement of Alan Morrison‘s premiere of my solo organ piece Two Meditations on Freu dich sehr, commissioned by Abington Presbyterian Church for the rededication of its organ.

Due to the extended power interruption at the church this past week, the premiere and all the events surrounding that concert could not go on this Sunday, February 16, as was originally planned.

Everything’s been moved to Sunday, March 16, 2014:

10:00 Rededication Worship Service with Ethel Geist, organist
4:00 Rededication Recital with Alan Morrison, organist, which includes Two Meditations

So it isn’t because of the snow that’s supposed to hit here in (as I write) ten hours, but because of the past storms that knocked out electricity for multiple days. I can imagine all the effort it takes to produce events on this scale—including, I’m guessing, last-minute prep for the instrument—so with a big thank-you to Alan (with an incredibly busy schedule) and to John Sall, Ethel Geist, the organ rededication committee at APC, and to the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, we’ll give it a go on Sunday, March 16th!

Two Meditations on Freu dich sehr

TwoMeditationsFreuP2TwoMeditationsFreuP5The doorbell rang Sunday afternoon and I hit the Send button. That was that; no more fussing. I sent off the new piece and went to a concert with friends.

Actually, I had finished the new solo organ work, Two Meditations on Freu dich sehr, on Friday, two days before the December 1st deadline, and spent the rest of the weekend tweaking it. It’s for Alan Morrison, and is part of the celebration of the Organ Restoration Campaign of Abington Presbyterian Church in Abington, Pa. Their 1969 Möller is undergoing a complete rebuilding under the supervision of Music Director John Sall, and Alan premieres Two Meditations on the dedication recital, February 16th, 2014 at 4 pm.

“Freu dich sehr” is the name of a hymn written to a tune from the Genevan Psalter (the 1551 edition). We know it by the hymn name of “Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People,” and that’s the name of the first movement, which may serve as an organ prelude. “That His Word Is Never Broken” is the second, postlude-like movement; those words are the final phrase of the hymn known to us.

The Genevan Psalter, by the time it was finished in the 1570s, was so popular that it quickly spread to other countries and translations. (The most well-known tune, the “Doxology” or “Old Hundredth” or “All People that on Earth Do Dwell” comes from this psalter.) So, “Freu dich sehr” is often thought of as a German or Lutheran tune, but it comes from Calvinist Switzerland, making it appropriate for a Presbyterian celebration, I thought. In the psalter, it serves as the (French) rhymed version of Psalm 42.

I’m thrilled to be working with Alan Morrison, one of America’s foremost concert organists, and a champion of contemporary music. (And there is work yet to do: as the organ isn’t finished yet, there are still registrations to be figured out.) Alan is Head of the Organ Department at The Curtis Institute of Music, Associate Professor of Organ at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, and College Organist at Ursinus College. He regularly performs throughout the United States and internationally. One of the challenges was to make music worthy of Alan’s artistry, yet would serve—after the recital—as a work for church organists everywhere.

The concert I was going to? Well, not a “concert” at all. It was Advent Lessons & Carols at St. Mark’s Church, where among much other music Matt Glandorf and the choir were to present my Magnificat. The first lesson we heard read aloud was from Isaiah 40: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.”

Then we sang “Freu dich sehr.”