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A Chat with Lloyd Larson

Guest post from Jubilate Music Group

Lloyd Larson has become one of today’s most published and performed church music writers. A frequently called-upon clinic and conference resource, Larson has been a singer, keyboard player, and arranger.

Having earned his B.A. from Anderson University, Anderson, IN, Lloyd next completed his M.C.M. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), Louisville, KY, and undertook additional graduate work at SBTS and Ohio State University.

Larson’s extensive background in arranging and composing includes arranging music for an internationally broadcast radio program. Also, in 1989, he completed an editorial assignment for a new hymnal, Worship the Lord, for the Church of God, and co-edited the accompanying Hymnal Companion. In addition, Larson contributed to the Complete Library of Christian Worship, edited by Dr. Robert Webber. He has served as a church music director for decades (a role he continues to this day), which has inevitably informed his artful and well-crafted yet practical original compositions and arrangements.

Recently, Larson sat down with Mark Cabaniss, President and CEO of Jubilate Music Group, to discuss his work and to help us all get to know him a bit better.

Mark Cabaniss, President and CEO of Jubilate Music Group (MC): What and when was your first published piece of music? How did it feel to see your music and name in print for the first time?

Lloyd Larson (LL): My very first publication was a two-part Advent anthem titled Love Will Be Born. It was published by Beckenhorst Press in 1982 and was a collaborative project with lyricist Mary Kay Beall. Mary Kay and her husband, composer John Carter, lived in Columbus, Ohio, where I was living and serving on a church staff at that time. I had the opportunity to meet John and Mary Kay and study with John for a few years. At the time, John was doing adjunct editorial work for Beckenhorst. He introduced me to the legendary composer John Ness Beck, one of the co-founders and president of Beckenhorst. It was an amazing experience to see that first piece come into print! Though I had been involved with choirs using published music from my teen years, I had little knowledge of the sequence of steps involved from “idea to publication.” I’m forever indebted to John and Mary Kay for their influence as they guided me through the process and introduced me to numerous people who have been instrumental in encouraging me on my journey as a composer.

MC: What do you enjoy most about the compositional process?

LL: For me each piece involves its own unique journey. I try to avoid thinking, “I want this piece to sound like….” That’s especially true with sacred choral anthems. Though I’m a composer and love to find a melody, harmonic structure, and rhythmic framework that work, the reason we sing in the context of worship is because of the lyric. As a result, it is essential when I sit down to create music to go with a text that I build a distinctive vehicle (music) that will underscore and create a path by which that lyric is heard in fresh and meaningful ways. I love discovering new ways to express the profound truths of our faith. I love unearthing new treatments to familiar hymn melodies. I love finding a distinctive marriage between a familiar hymn text with a new or different hymn tune than what is typically associated with it. When these moments happen for me in my studio and they impact me in a new way, I’ve come to believe they will have a similar impact on others as well.

MC: Who have been the most influential people in your writing career?

LL: I’ve already mentioned the impact that composer John Carter and his wife, lyricist Mary Kay Beall, had on my early writing career. But there have been many others along the way. I would call them the “giants along my path.” The late John Ness Beck and Fred Bock were also strong encouragers in the early years of my career. George and Bill Shorney, Lew Kirby, Jack Schrader, Larry Pugh, Gilbert Martin, and Jean Anne Shafferman along with numerous others have been profound influences in my writing with their input and encouragement. They have seen potential in my work and often pushed me outside of my own comfort zones to try some things I would never have considered. But I would be remiss if I didn’t go back and recall the early influence of my mother (my first piano teacher) and my high school and college teachers who encouraged me to explore my interests in writing, even providing me platforms to try out some of my earliest writing endeavors. Writing for “real live singers and instrumentalists” in college and church settings helped me to discover quickly what worked and what didn’t work. I’ve continued to be involved in church work over the years (now 40+ years) which has been essential in shaping my approach as a composer of church music.

MC: With the changing tides of church music styles over the last few decades, what encouragement can you give to choir directors of today’s church?

LL: I will always be an advocate for church choirs. I strongly believe in them! (And it is not just because I depend on them for my livelihood.) They provide such a unique opportunity for ministry in the local church. The church choir I’ve directed for the last 25 years is a very tight community. The pastoral staff in our church calls the choir our “largest small group.” And I think they’re right. We are a community for 40+ people who typically gather a couple of times a week to rehearse and sing in worship. In the process of working on music together, we develop our musicianship while at the same time studying together the truths of our faith through the words that we sing. We are a multi-generation ensemble ranging in age from teens to my eldest bass who is 93 (and the most faithful member I have in the choir!). We regularly pray, cry, and laugh together. We celebrate life achievements, and we mourn losses together. We sing every style of music imaginable from the classics to beloved gospel songs with harmonica. (Yes, I have an outstanding harmonica player in my church…so why not?!?!?!) There are few, if any, settings in the life of the church where you can live life and faith in such a community. When the day comes that I’m no longer writing choral music or directing choirs, I anticipate singing in a choir. That’s how much I believe in them!

MC: You have a new cantata out this year (with Mark Hayes) titled Seekers of the Light. What is the thrust of this work?

SeekersOfTheLight

LL: “Light” is a metaphor for goodness and God’s presence throughout scripture. As people of faith, we are always on this journey to experience more of the “light of Christ” as we seek out His will and presence in our daily living. And this was true for the earliest followers of Christ, even those who first saw and recognized Him as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. They were guided by light (bright angelic hosts and celestial stars) to the Promised Child. We are all seekers of light when it comes to understanding our faith or life in general. And it is an ongoing journey. We will never “arrive” until we reach our final destination, our heavenly home. As a result, Seekers of the Light is an appropriate title and thrust, it seems to me, for recalling the pilgrimages of the earliest worshipers of Christ while at the same time uniting us with those worshipers in our own journeys as we seek to understand and know this One who called Himself the “light of the world” (John 8:12). It was a pleasure to collaborate with my longtime friend and colleague, Mark Hayes, on this project. I’ve been a fan of Mark’s music over the years, having used a ton of his music in my own ministry. So to partner with him on a project like this is a special treat for me. It is certainly my prayer that this cantata will impact and encourage directors, choirs, and congregations as they prepare and present it in the coming months!

MC: Is there a writing project you have yet to tackle or hope to accomplish?

LL: I always have an ongoing list of projects which I hope to tackle at some point down the road. The list is longer than I’ll ever get done in this lifetime (kind of like my “to-do” list of home projects that I’m wanting to tackle!). It is a grass-catcher list of ideas that has been spawned by a line in a sermon, or a passage of scripture, or a brief idea that has surfaced from a hymn text. I probably won’t divulge too much of that here. (I mean I don’t want Joe Martin, Mark Hayes, or Mary McDonald stealing my ideas! Ha!) One of the areas I’d love to pursue a bit more is to occasionally do a musical project outside of Christmas or Easter themes. As much as I love doing extended work on those themes, it is nice to have the opportunity to develop an extended work in other thematic directions. The reality, though, is that we who are church composers don’t get that opportunity too often simply because of the nature of our core market. I did recently have an opportunity to do a large commission project based on a group of Psalms which was truly a challenging and gratifying experience.

MC: Do you have a story of something you’ve written?

LL: On December 14, 2012, I happened to be working on a lyric by Susan Boersma. Susan is a fabulous lyricist and had created a lyric based on Revelation 22:5 that I had asked her to consider. That particular day – a Friday – was the day a lone gunman burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and senselessly took the lives of twenty young children and six adult staff members in a matter of minutes. On that day, the words I was setting became deeply personal and hopeful in what was a very dark moment for many in that community and beyond:

“Into the valley of shadows, under the veil of gray, God calls the good and faithful, then guides us on the way. Through the valley of shadows, lost in the dark of night, our God goes before us to lead us to the light. There will be no more night! No need for lamp or ray of sun, the Lamb will be the light. There will be no more night! No need to fast, to watch, to weep around the throne so bright.”

That anthem, Dwell in the Light Forevermore, holds a special place in my heart because of the circumstances which surrounded its creation.

MC: “Getting to Know…Lloyd Larson” — Our “Lightning Round” of quick questions and answers:

1. What is on your summer reading list?

LL: The Next Person You Meet in Heaven (Mitch Albom), Unshakable Hope (Max Lucado), The Reckoning (John Grisham), Vanishing Grace (Philip Yancey)

2. What types of music do you listen to most?

LL: I try to listen to a little bit of everything, from the classics to outstanding (and current) choral writers. I love jazz and big band sounds. My wife and I just this week went to an outdoor drum and bugle competition (DCI) in a nearby community, something we enjoy doing when the opportunity affords itself. I’m a big John Williams fan with some of his classic movie themes. As a teenager, I was a big “Chicago” fan, and many of those melodies are rooted deep in my memory. I’m not sure I have a favorite genre, per se. I’m pretty eclectic in my tastes.

3. What is your favorite vacation spot?

LL: As a kid growing up in central Illinois, my family often vacationed on a lake in northern Wisconsin. I fell in love with the northwoods in those years. And I still love them! Most summers will find my wife, Marci, and I carving out a few days between summer travel commitments to spend some time on a northern Minnesota lake somewhere enjoying some quiet time. That’s on our schedule for later this summer. It is often a small “mom & pop” resort of modest cabin somewhere where the biggest agenda of the day may be “Should we grill out, or drive into town and find a restaurant for dinner this evening?” We enjoy the quiet beautiful scenery, some fishing, reading, and a lot of down time. It is a wonderful way to recharge!

4. What is your favorite summertime frozen treat?

LL: One of my biggest disappointments in recent years is that it appears that every DQ [Dairy Queen] in the upper Midwest has discontinued the Snickers Blizzard. This was my favorite for years! But I must have been in the minority. So I’ve been exploring other chocolate-influenced Blizzard options. I haven’t landed on a new favorite as of yet. But I’m working on it. Stay tuned!

MC: Thank you, Lloyd, for spending some time with us so our readers can get to know you a bit better. Your contributions to church music are immeasurable, and your music not only enriches lives, but most importantly, is building God’s Kingdom. Blessings to you in the years ahead, and we look forward to more exciting music creations from you!


Jubilate Music Group is dedicated to publishing a broad range of resources stylistically suited to meet the diverse needs of churches and schools. The Jubilate Music catalog is comprised of choral, piano, organ, handbell, vocal, and instrumental publications ranging from adult choral anthems, extended works and folios to music for children’s choir and praise teams.

Unknown Puccini: Newly-Discovered Organ Works

Guest post by Gabriella Biagi Ravenni with translation by Charles Johnston

It was not long ago that Puccini’s preoccupation with the organ was only the subject of anecdotes. When some of his compositions — believed to be lost — recently emerged, an exciting research adventure started and resulted in unexpected discoveries.

Puccini

Giacomo Puccini

It has always been well known that Giacomo Puccini had been an organist in his youth. Indeed, accounts of his playing of a number of organs in his home town are spiced up in the early biographies by anecdotal details — the money he earned, then removed from the envelopes intended for his mother Albina, the theft of the pipes from organs in order to buy cigarettes: details ideally suited to constructing the image of a ‘disorderly,’ bohemian artist. It was also known that he had written organ music, thanks to a 1927 article by Alfredo Bonaccorsi, who had been able to view in Porcari (a town not far from Puccini’s native city of Lucca) the autograph sources owned by Carlo Della Nina, grandson of the Carlo Della Nina to whom Puccini had originally given the autographs. Then the sources migrated across the Atlantic with their owner and, more than a half century later, were sold by auction at Sotheby’s, leaving a less than exhaustive trace in the catalog. On the whole, there was all too little to go on.

Then an exciting adventure — to put it mildly — began for the Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini almost by chance: the son of the younger Carlo Della Nina, Carl, was traced to Chicago, and he providentially found among his father’s papers photocopies of the sources seen by Bonaccorsi. There followed a complicated process of collating the photocopies and reconstructing them, which produced an initial, unexpected harvest of nineteen complete pieces and one incomplete work. Then, surprisingly, in a genuine “domino effect,” another thirty pieces emerged thanks to the help of two organists (Andrea Toschi and Eliseo Sandretti) who permitted access to their archives. This excavation process was accompanied by in-depth research in the archives. Thus, in 2017, it was possible to give a public account of these acquisitions with a volume of essays, a concert and a CD.

Autograph-of-the-Maestoso-from-the-Sei-Versetti-in-Fa-maggiore-(No-8)_source-manuscript-Sandretti

Autograph of the “Maestoso” from the Sei Versetti in F Major (No. 8)

But the adventure was not yet over: in that same year we were given access to the Archive Puccini in Torre del Lago, which contained a further important find of twelve organ compositions. That discovery naturally interrupted the work on the volume of the critical edition of the music for organ under the supervision of Virgilio Bernardoni for the Edition Nazionale delle Opere di Giacomo Puccini published by Carus.

Now we know much more about Puccini as an organist and composer for organ, and his general training in Lucca. It is also possible to reread the first biographies in a new light, distinguishing the facts from the anecdotes.

As a whole, the pieces examined to date testify to Puccini’s intensive activity at the organ as a boy and young man, even if the incomplete state of some of the documents suggests an even larger output. The “Sonatas” of the Toschi and Sandretti collections show us the very young Puccini, careful to write with precision (did he have to show them to a teacher?) and busy experimenting with the various types of pieces for liturgical use, following the practice of the time, i.e., offertories, elevations, communions, versets and marches. The sources of the Della Nina Collection, on the other hand, show us the young Puccini, endowed with greater personality and autonomy, and freed from the constraint of calligraphic handwriting. The compositions from the Archivio in Torre del Lago offer precise indications regarding the liturgical function with which they were associated and will therefore prove useful for a comprehensive reinterpretation of the typologies of liturgical organ music of that period.

The newly-discovered works therefore display interesting perspectives even beyond the scope of Puccini research. Last but not least they offer a special opportunity for organists to enrich their repertoire thanks to the Carus edition of these works.

Puccini-Organ-Sonate-Versetti-Marce

Edizione Nazionale delle Opere di Giacomo Puccini. II. Instrumental music; 2.1 Works for organ: Sonate, Versetti, Marce. Vol. II/2

 

Puccini-Organ-Selected

Puccini: Sonate, Versetti, Marce. Selected Organ Works

 


Gabriella-Ravenni

Gabriella Biagi Ravenni is a founding member of the Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini, of which she has been president since 2007. She is also a member of the scientific committee of the Edizione Nazionale delle Opere di Giacomo Puccini and coordinates the ongoing publication of the Puccini epistolary. She also worked as director of the Museo Casa Natale between 1995 and 2014. Until 2017 she was associate professor at the University of Pisa.

 


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