Guest post by composers Lee & Susan Dengler introducing their new Holy Week cantata, When Darkness Comes. Lee and Susan are the authors of over 400 choral anthems, cantatas and vocal and piano solo collections that are used worldwide. They have served as music leaders in churches, and have taught music on the elementary, high school and college levels. Both are professional singers and have performed in recitals, operas, oratorios and musicals. They reside in Goshen, Indiana.
Lee Dengler & Susan Naus Dengler
Easter was in mid-April that year. We who work in church music are relieved when Easter comes that late in the season, allowing adequate time to prepare for the music of Lent and Easter.
However, there was a lot going on in our house back then. We were awaiting the birth of our second child. The due date was April 1. Because of church responsibilities, we hoped that this baby would arrive on time. Rebecca Joy only made us wait two extra days before she appeared on the scene. Even though Palm Sunday was only two days later, we could fulfill our Holy Week responsibilities without too much stress.
Over the summer we found some time to connect over Skype with composer, oboist, installation artist and professor Sky Macklay, who was in the middle of what sounded like a truly magnificent residency at Civitella Ranieri in Umbertide, Italy. Macklay’s work, especially her chamber music and intermedia pieces, has been receiving more and more attention recently, especially in light of her 2017 Grammy nomination for “Many Many Cadences,” a chamber piece written for Spektral Quartet and appearing on their 2016 album, Serious Business.
The measured but sincerely eager thoughtfulness that Macklay employs in conversation about her art is also a key component of her work, which simultaneously revels in playfulness and freedom. The themes and concepts covered by her oeuvre, whether sociopolitical or linguistic or purely sonic, are almost as expansive as the tools she employs to explore them and convey her perspective on them. Her curiosity seems to be matched only by her omnivorous gravitational pull on the world around her: everything is on the table to explore via every means she can get her hands on. And the results are surprising, head-turning, eye-opening — and continuously exciting.
If a composer just so happens to also be a photographer, an essayist, and an activist both within the musical arena and outside of it, it seems fitting that she would describe her own work as “pan-genre and diverse – sometimes within the same piece!” Alex Shapiro’s extensive catalog encompasses film scores, chamber music and choral works, but it is in concert band music that Alex has been leaving her strongest mark as a composer.
Alex’s first foray into the concert band world came in 2007, when Major Tod A. Addison, Commander and conductor of the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Band, contacted her via MySpace to commission a piece. At the time Alex had never composed for, participated in or even attended a performance of a wind band in her life, but was encouraged by Major Addison’s openness to her ideas and decided to jump right in.
The final piece, titled “Homecoming,” folds Alex’s sophisticated take on symphonic and jazz-pop music into traditional wind band sounds, while also taking a nuanced, multi-dimensional approach to the concept of a “military theme.” The result isn’t a collection of recognizable layers of elements, but rather something entirely new.