04 November 2008

Three Short Pieces

Although all three pieces have been played before, this Sunday will see the first performance of my opus 34 organ pieces (modest little things) as a set. Paul Cienniwa has selected them for the prelude to the service this coming Sunday at First Church in Boston's Back Bay. These are pieces I originally wrote for Bill Goodwin, organist at the First Congregational Church in Woburn.

The first, Canzona semplice, began as a sketch for children's chorus while I was in Tallinn, Estonia. I was in Tallinn teaching English at the Kopli Kunstikeskkool, through a volunteer program; and the music teacher at the school, Priit Poom, suggested that I write something for the school's chorus. My sketches never came to much while I was still in Tallinn (for only one thing, I was writing a tune and harmonizing it, but there was no text in sight, so what would anyone have sung?). A few years later, and now in Boston, I was leafing through my files, and found the sketch. I had composed the melody, and then harmonized it two different ways, in three and four parts respectively. There was no great need to fashion a choral piece out of it, so I arranged it as a simple organ piece.

The third piece emerged from my leafing through a hymnal, where I found an arrangement of a tune from the Scottish Psalter, a fine modal tune with a certain Celtic sturdiness. I puttered with it, drew up a harmonization or two of my own; and the result was both this organ piece, and (in part) a contrasting middle section for a string orchestra piece, Canticle of St Nicholas.

The middle piece of my opus 34 I drew up as a freehand harmonic game, O Beauteous Heavenly Light. Spare harmonies casting sonic shadows into the space. In writing it, I was thinking less in terms of "an organ piece," and more reminiscing of walking into a quiet basilica, and as I accustom myself to the feeling of the place, realizing that the quiet is not a silence, and there is, not so much organ music, as a hint of organ music.

Since these pieces will be played for the prelude, they won't much make it out in the live broadcast of the service (0ver WERS Boston); but perhaps there may be tape running.

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