Archive for the 'Contemporary Composers' Category

In Memoriam: George Crumb (1929 – 2022)

George Crumb. Photo credit: Simon Jay Pierce.

Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “…an all-American composer – one of our best, most original and most important,” George Crumb was a titan of contemporary classical music, who was beloved by musicians and audiences alike for his aurally and visually stunning scores.

A true avant-garde, Crumb expanded our conception of what it means to be a musician, turning items like bowed water glasses into instruments, incorporating new elements such as spoken word, nature sounds, and electronics into his works, and asking instrumentalists to participate in elaborate theatrical presentations of his music, wearing masks, for instance, or performing under prescribed lighting.

Creating works simultaneously dramatic and concise, Crumb gave to music his own musical language, both in sound and on the page. Many of Crumb’s unique notated scores famously were hand-drawn shapes and spirals. For example, his written score for “Agnus Dei” from Makrokosmos II, is in the shape of a peace symbol. In a 2016 interview with the Brunswick Review, Crumb said, “I don’t have any artistic skills outside of musical calligraphy, I just think the music should look the way it sounds.”

George Crumb writing “The Fiddler.” Photo credit: Margaret Leng Tan.

Refreshingly original and hauntingly beautiful, Crumb’s music not only reached the souls of some of the 20th-century’s most important musicians, but also inspired them to do their part to revolutionize music. Black Angels, Crumb’s best-known work, was described by David Bowie as one of his favorite records: “a study in spiritual annihilation.” That piece, said Kronos Quartet’s David Harrington, “opened up a whole new world to me…. I had no choice but to form Kronos.”

Crumb won a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award for his compositions, and his groundbreaking, evocative music has been used again and again in works ranging from ballets to Hollywood films, including The Exorcist. His scores are routinely taught in textbooks and in conservatories around the world, and his influence on contemporary music is immeasurable.

Join us in celebrating the life and work of the legendary George Crumb.

John Williams: 90 Years – And Counting

On this, his 90th birthday, we’d posit that there is no living composer who has managed to be simultaneously so well-known, well-respected and well-loved than John Williams. We know his grand era- and genre-defining oeuvre like the backs of our hands: Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter, E.T., Indiana Jones — and the list goes on and on.

The broader public will recognize Williams pieces for their ingenious hooks, fearless displays of the widest range of human emotion, and instantaneous connection to the moving images they bring to life. Musicians, meanwhile, will simply enjoy playing his beautiful melodies and deeply satisfying orchestrations that feel undeniably natural.

None of this, of course, needs any introduction — and sometimes that’s the fun of it. Especially in times like these where our society seems to become more intensely divided with each passing day, a cultural touchpoint of pure joy that we all hold dear and that we can all relate to might be exactly what we need.

The John Williams Signature Edition series remains the gold standard in Williams scores. These spiral-bound, fully-engraved conductor’s scores come directly from the Williams originals and contain anecdotes written and signed by Williams himself that tell us, for example, which scene that he scored was his favorite, how the actors who worked on his legendary films helped to inspire his music, and his own personal connections to the characters those actors brought to life. Whether for orchestra or concert band, these editions have become cornerstones of the popular repertoire of premier ensembles across the country, and with Baby Yoda of The Mandalorian capturing the hearts of a whole new generation of Star Wars fans, that looks to be true for years to come.

Emerging from Our Caves

Guest post by composer Robert Sterling

I’ve often said that if I were to compare myself to an animal it would be a bear. A Grizzly, to be more specific. Grizzlies eat half the year and sleep the remaining half. And they spend a lot of time in a cave. They are okay being alone. That describes the life of the composer/arranger in a lot of ways, actually.

I work in a cave – a very nice cave, mind you. I have high-speed internet, quality studio gear, central heat & air, and a bathroom and kitchen very nearby. But it’s still essentially a cave. And when I’m not working, all too often I am either eating or sleeping. Oh, and I growl a lot, but that’s more about my personality. All in all, I’m okay in my cave.

But for the past eighteen months or so, the whole world has been in a cave, isolated from our fellow bears (I mean human beings) except for Netflix, Prime Video, and Zoom. That is not normal for the vast majority of people. Now, we are slowly emerging to see if the world outside has changed much, and if so, how.

Continue reading ‘Emerging from Our Caves’

Restore Our Song: A Homecoming

Guest post by composers Lee & Susan Dengler introducing Restore Our Song: A Resource for Restarting Your Choir, which includes an opening “kick-off” fellowship and service, devotions on the themes of deliverance and renewal, easy anthem suggestions to get the choir back in shape quickly, service ideas including a hymn sing, recruitment tips, a simple chorus for choir and congregation titled “Restore Our Song,” and more.

Finally, they were on their way!  After years of exile in Babylon, God’s people were returning to Judah.  Though some had decided to remain in Babylon, a contingent, led by the priest and scribe, Ezra, began the journey home.  To them, Babylon was still a land where they simply could not sing the Lord’s song, even when coaxed by their captors.  All they had been able to do was to hang their harps, the instruments that had once accompanied their voices, on the willow trees that stood guard by the river.  The drooping branches of the trees had served as a visual reminder of their own weeping. 

And then, they were home in their beloved native land!  In the second chapter of the book of Ezra, we find the listing of folks who returned to Jerusalem and other Judean towns. There were the priests, the temple servants, the gatekeepers of the temple.  And, there were the singers!

As the foundations of the new temple were laid, the singers began their song, as they praised and gave thanks to the Lord.  For those who listened, there was a mixture of emotions.  While some shouted for joy, others, who had remembered the former temple and all they had endured, wept with a loud voice.  It was hard to distinguish the shouts of joy from the noise of their crying.  Nevertheless, the combined sound of joyous shouts, sorrowful weeping and glorious singing could be heard for miles around.

We have thought about these people many times during the months of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after we learned that singing in groups had the ability to spread the virus more virulently than almost anything else.  How could we sing the Lord’s song in such a land?  But now, it seems that we too are on our way home.  Almost daily, we learn of positive indicators that tell us that choirs can safely return to in-person, close-up, full-choir singing.  Thanks be to God!  This is the news for which we have been waiting over these past, long months!

Continue reading ‘Restore Our Song: A Homecoming’

Wounded Alleluias

Guest post by Joseph M. Martin, Composer and Director of Sacred Publications for Shawnee Press

The quest to combine ministry with artistry has been a lifelong calling for me.  I have always found my place and purpose in this pursuit.  Composing animates me and breathes into my spirit an inner peace that is deeply sacred.

Reassuring rituals are part of my writing process—simple disciplines made special by repetition, reminding me to be grateful for the labor to which I have been called. With faithful regularity the process unfolds over and over, familiar yet surprising, comfortable yet challenging.

Continue reading ‘Wounded Alleluias’

A Little Jazz Piano: Exploring the Building Blocks of Music with Bob Chilcott

Bob Chilcott
(Photo: John Bellars)

You know him as one of the world’s preeminent choral composers and conductors, as well as a former member of the King’s Singers, but like so many of us, even Bob Chilcott was forced to put down his baton this year and find other ways to make music.

Chilcott focused his musical attention on teaching piano and theory to his eleven-year-old daughter, Becky, and her friend, and ended up also writing a set of three short jazz-style pieces for the piano to help show his students and other early intermediate learners explore the technical building blocks of music and develop their musical instincts in a way that would also be fun.

The results, A Little Jazz Piano, is a short piano suite featuring Chilcott’s celebrated jazz style in three movements: “Bobbing along,” “Becky’s Song” and “Walking with Ollie.”

Watch Chilcott play excerpts of the suite here:  

VOCES8 Premieres Six New Commissions during LIVE From London – Christmas Festival

On December 5, 2020, as part of its LIVE From London – Christmas online festival, British choral ensemble VOCES8 premiered six new pieces by composers Jocelyn Hagen, Taylor Scott Davis, Ken Burton, Roderick Williams, Paul Smith and Melissa Dunphy.

The 6 New Commissions

Now Winter Nights

Roderick Williams
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Now Winter Nights” by British composer and baritone Roderick Williams uses an evocative poem by Thomas Campion as its text, helping him to pinpoint the excitement of Christmas he felt as a child and still holds onto.

Continue reading ‘VOCES8 Premieres Six New Commissions during LIVE From London – Christmas Festival’

A Four-Part Journey through Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir

Guest post by Curran Mahowald, a choral singer who participated in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6 in May 2020

Eric Whitacre

In the spring of 2020, Eric Whitacre assembled his sixth global virtual choir to premiere his new piece, “Sing Gently.” Following a series of virtual rehearsals led by Whitacre himself, 17,572 singers from 129 countries submitted videos of themselves singing their individual lines.

From there, a team of film editors and audio engineers from 59 Productions and Floating Earth assembled the individual submissions into one final virtual performance:

Here is what it was like to contribute my voice to that video.

Continue reading ‘A Four-Part Journey through Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir’

Edition Peters: A Commitment to Bold New Sounds

EditionPetersLogo2020One of the most thrilling parts of working with music is discovering new works and budding composers who are changing not only the way we listen to music and perceive sound, but also how we conceive of the broader world around us and our place in it both today and into the future.

Edition Peters has consistently championed contemporary music throughout its storied history, and with its ever-expanding catalog, Peters continues to be one of the staunchest supporters of the artists who shape the future of our musical landscape. Here Kathryn Knight, President of C.F. Peters New York, illuminates the Peters commitment to new music:

Kathryn KnightPeters has been working with contemporary composers since its inception in Leipzig over two centuries ago, publishing new music by young and emerging composers such as Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Grieg… Our commitment to bold new sounds has remained steadfast since that time, signing 20th-century iconoclasts such as John Cage and George Crumb. We know that some of today’s mavericks will be the composers of tomorrow’s classics.

– Kathryn Knight, President, C.F. Peters NY

A Short History of Edition Peters

Edition Peters was founded in 1800 in Leipzig, Germany, and quickly established itself as one of the 19th century’s leading German music publishing houses, building relationships with the most outstanding composers of the era. In the 20th century, Max and Walter Hinrichsen — surviving members of the German Jewish family that owned Edition Peters — fled the Nazi takeover of both their homeland and their family business and established new publishing houses in London and New York, respectively, that would carry on the Peters tradition.

Walter Hinrichsen Meeting With Beethoven Portrait

Walter Hinrichsen, founder of Peters NY, holding a staff meeting under the famous Beethoven portrait by Stieler, now housed at the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn

Continue reading ‘Edition Peters: A Commitment to Bold New Sounds’

Explore the Work of Black Musicians & Composers

As Sheet Music Plus stands in solidarity with those around the world advocating for change, we’d like to ask you to join us today in listening to Black voices. Here we recognize organizations that support and promote Black musicians and music education:

We also share, in addition to the legacies left by brilliant but underappreciated Black classical composers like Scott Joplin, William Grant Still, Florence Price, William Dawson, and Nathaniel Dett, a directory of living Black composers maintained by Music by Black Composers (MBC):

https://www.musicbyblackcomposers.org/resources/living-composers-directory/

Continue reading ‘Explore the Work of Black Musicians & Composers’


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Thought-provoking articles by musicians for musicians, music lovers or those that want to learn more about it!

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