Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sacred Choral CD in the Making

PARMA Recordings has welcomed me as one of it's new featured artists. Together with Cincinnati Bach Ensemble and Music Director, Carlton Monroe, we will release a CD of choral works by myself and J.S. Bach later next year. Read more about the project here.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

An Exciting Musical Season at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Cincinnati

The quickly approaching 2013-14 musical season is full of exciting concerts and premiers at St. Thomas Episcopal Church where I am composer-in-residence. The Bach Vespers series presented by the Cincinnati Bach Ensemble continues to present a Bach Cantata nearly every month as well as select works for solo instrument and small orchestra. Each of the instrumentalists is also a member of the Cincinnati Symphony, including principal flute Randy Bowman, principal oboe Dwight Parry, and several other gifted players.

We are excited to present a special Easter concert on April 27th 2014 that will combine the forces of the St. Thomas Parish Choir with the players and singers of the Bach Ensemble. A new cantata that I am currently composing—The Firstfruits of Them That Slept—will be the focal point of the performance together with Bach's joyful Easter Cantata, BWV 67, Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ.

A huge 'thank you' to Dr. Carlton Monroe for his continued support. It is a great privilege for me to be a part of the wonderful musical traditions and happenings at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

Here's a breakdown of the concerts and services when my music will be performed this season.

November 10, 2013
- Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis, for mixed chorus and organ
- 4pm Evensong Service

November 17, 2013
- Pater Noster, for mixed chorus and organ
- from Missa Musica Sacra
- 10am Service

December 22, 2013
- In The Beginning, Carol for baritone, choir, and organ
- 4pm Lessons and Carols Service

January 26, 2014
- Lead Gently, Lord, for mixed chorus a cappella
- PREMIERE of satb version
- 10am Service

February 21, 2014
- Composition Recital
- Various works for solo piano, voice, and chamber ensemble
- Various local artists and NKU collegues
- 7pm, Parish Hall

March 2, 2014
- Dextera Domini, for mixed chorus and organ
- from Miss Musica Sacra
- 10am Service

April 13, 2014
- What Cost, What Price, What Debt We Owe, for mixed chorus and organ
- from The Firstfruits of them That Slept
- 10am Service

April 19, 2014
- He Broke the Bands of Death and Hell, for mixed chorus and organ
- from The Firstfruits of Them That Slept
- 10pm Easter Vigil

April 27, 2014
- The Firstfruits of Them That Slept, Easter Cantata for chorus, soloists, and chamber orchestra
- Cincinnati Bach Ensemble, St. Thomas Parish Choir
- 4pm Evensong Service

June 1, 2014
- And This Is Life Eternal, for mixed chorus and organ
- 10am Service


Monday, November 12, 2012

Blue Shore Blog

Announcing the Blue Shore Blog where I will post my current composition activity and all other news, events, performances, and general musical commentaries. This used to be a blog about my 8 months living and working in Poland as a Fulbright scholar. Now, it will be a place to announce and discuss all of my creative work.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Weeks 29-34: Final Post from Poland

As many readers already know, I returned to the U.S. on April 6th because my wife's health has been a challenge and I needed to be there to support her. She is gradually improving, but it has been a very slow process. I came back to Poland this past Tuesday, May 1st to attend the Gaude Mater Festival of Sacred Music and have my final meeting with the composition faculty at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music. It has been very nice seeing all of my wonderful Polish friends again and getting the chance to express my thanks to them. It is a strange time for me. I am very happy to be returning to my family permanently, but I also feel sad to leave so many new friends behind.

The Gaude Mater Festival in Czestochowa was very special. Not only was there a superb concert of new choral music, including my Agnus Dei for double chorus, but I was also able to experience the atmosphere of Czestochowa, which is the spiritual heart of Poland. This is where the famous painting Black Madonna of Czestochowa hangs.

It is the most sacred icon of Polish spirituality. There are many other paintings, statues, buildings, and artifacts that depict the deep roots of Polish Christianity. We attended a huge Mass with all the head Bishops of Poland, monks, and many important politicians. I had not until this day, this past Thursday, May 3rd, really felt the depth of spirituality of the Polish people both now and through the ages. Christianity began here in 966 and is the bedrock of their lives. Now there are many who are more interested in atheism and extreme liberalism which is very sad to people like my teacher, Pawel Lukaszewski. But, there are still many millions who hold fast to their religious roots. It is a very unique place in the world where so many are united under the banner of their religion. I was very moved and felt the deep respect and love that these people have for deity. 

These months have been very important in my life, I have learned many things that I will keep with me for years to come. I have also been busy and composed many new pieces. Here is a list.

Aguns Dei, Double Chorus a cappella, 4 mins.
Ave Redemptor, SSAA a cappella (and SSAATTBB version), 4 mins. each
A La Orilla Azul del Silencio, Solo Piano, 25 mins.
Kyrie (from Missa Resurrexit), SATB and Orchestra, 5 mins.
Llueve, Symphony Orchestra, 5 mins. 
Magnificat, SSAATTBB a cappella, (in progress, 2 mins. so far)
Missa 'Musica Sacra', SATB and Organ (and Orchestral version), 20 mins. each
Pater Noster, SSAA and Organ, 3 mins.
School Thy Feelings, TTB and Organ, (hymn arrangement in progress, 2 mins. so far)
Two Motets, Double Chorus a cappella, 8 mins.

All together that's a total of 106 minutes of music, not bad. Additionally, I've received a commission from the Washington National Opera and Kennedy Center for Performing Arts for a short 20 minute, comic opera and a prize for liturgical music. 

One of the best parts of being here in Poland has been the chance to meet other Fulbright grantees. While I have become friends with several of them, with a few I have begun working relationships that will be very important to my future. The first is Dara Weinberg, she is a very gifted poet, playwright, and director. We are working on the Washington/Kennedy opera together and have plans for many, many future projects. I cannot overemphasize how difficult it is to find a librettist who is both a poet and playwright with the additional plus of being so happy to discuss changes and be pliable to new ideas and re-writes. She is a diamond in the rough for a composer like me. We have a shared Google document where we keep a list of future projects we are determined to complete. It will easily take a couple decades to conquer this current list and we can't wait to get started.

The second of these Fulbright friends is William (Bill) Helmke. He is a very gifted theorist with whom I have greatly enjoyed discussing all kinds of musical topics as well as religion and politics. He joined the Musica Sacra choir and has been traveling with us for concerts and to the Gaude Mater festival. We have begun a project analyzing and writing about Pawel Lukaszewski's music. We hope to promote his work in the U.S. to get people paying more attention to his wonderful art form. I'm sure we will work on many future projects together. 

My friends in the Musica Sacra choir have also been very dear to me. We have enjoyed many fun times and performances. I will greatly miss singing with them each week in rehearsal and Mass performances. 

Of course my friends from church have also been wonderful and I will miss them all. Fortunately we have Facebook which makes the world much smaller. 

I have written much about my teacher Pawel Lukaszewski. I must give a final 'thank you' to him here and to his lovely wife and children. They have been so kind to me. We spent most of the day together yesterday, eating, listening to music, sharing gifts, walking in the countryside, and discussing religion, politics, and the future of sacred music in Poland. They are dear friends whom I will never forget. They have made a deep and lasting impact on my life. I hope I can return the great hospitality they have shown me sometime in the future.

A big 'thank you' goes out also to the US-Poland Fulbright commission for their generous support without which none of this would have been possible. I have accomplished everything that I set out to accomplish, and much more.

I have likewise written before about my parents, but must again give a tremendous 'thank you' to them, who have so generously opened their home to my wife and children and watched after them as I have been away. 

Most of all I must thank my beautiful wife, Janae, for her support and unbelievable patience and sheer grit during these challenging months, the most challenging of her life. I was thinking about her today and all that she has done for me. A verse from the book of John came to mind. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Janae has literally set aside her life for me, laid it down in almost every way so I could fulfill this grant. She has even come near to actually laying down her mortal life with her blood disease which has added an enormous amount of difficulty to her already overwhelming plight. While I was home in April, I tried to take care of her as best I could and will continue to serve her and show my love more convincingly. I hope I can eventually repay her for all that she has done for me, but I'm not sure this will ever be possible. Thank you, Janae, I love you more than I know how to express. My mother taught me that the best way to show someone that you love them is to serve them. This is what I intend to do ever after.

Goodbye Poland!! Goodbye dear friends!! 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Weeks 27-28: An Anniversary Mass (Pew) and a Concert Review (Łukaszewski)

1. An Anniversary Mass (Pew)

I'm sure that regular readers of this blog are getting sick of hearing about my Missa 'Musica Sacra'. But, yesterday we gave a special performance of this work in a grand Anniversary Mass marking the 20th year since the Warsaw diocese was split in two and the Praga Cathedral was named the head of this new, 2nd unit. The division was made by Pope John Paul II, the Polish Pope. The Warsaw-Praga diocese alone serves over 1 million catholics. It was a great honor for me to have my Missa performed on this very special occasion.

(Translation: 20th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Warsaw-Praga Diocese)

(Translation: Holy Mass of the Church Diocese; Holy Mass Celebration presided by the Cardinal of Metropolitan Warsaw; singing Musica Sacra Warsaw-Praga Cathedral Choir, conductor and music director, Paweł Łukaszewski; Douglas Pew "Missa Musica Sacra" premiere)

The service was presided over by a cardinal and the 2 archbishops who head each of the 2 Warsaw dioceses. Our choir did a very nice job with the music. The Missa sounds much more at home in the high ceilings of the cathedral where it can reverberate and fill the acoustic space. Since I'm a 1st tenor, I couldn't help but compose a few nice tenor moments in the Missa which were so much fun to sing in that great space. Letting the sound go full-bodied in a big dramatic musical moment with a wonderful acoustic to send the sound soaring into is such a treat!! It was also a real treat for me on a personal level to share my spiritual feelings through music with other faithful Christians. In this day and age, we could use a lot more unity between the Christian churches and I feel very happy to do my part musically.

(Musica Sacra Choir performing during the service.)

Paweł and I were asked to speak to the archbishops afterwards. We were invited to the sacristy, where the high authorities meet together after the Mass and where they keep their vestments, and spoke with the archbishop of the other Warsaw diocese. He was very kind and complimentary of my music and our performance. Then, the choir was invited down to the catacombes for lunch. We have had similar lunches before and are usually asked to serve ourselves from the large buffet tables. However, this time, we--Paweł, his wife, and myself--were asked to sit at the tables with the bishops and other important people. We were served a large, 3 course meal. It was delicious. Pawel said that in his 10 years of being invited to these lunches after special Masses, this was the first time he had been invited to sit and eat with the VIPs. He said it was because of me, but I don't believe that. I think they are starting to realize what a great asset he is to their cathedral. It was great fun sitting and talking with Paweł, his wife, and the new head bishop and dean of the cathedral. The archbishop from our diocese also asked to see me to offer congratulations. He was very kind and said that he enjoyed my music. At the end of the 2 and a half our Mass service, he publicly thanked the choir and thanked me for composing the music for their special event. He also announced that I was a British composer. But, I didn't mind, I would love to be a British composer. They are so spoiled in the UK with all of those magnificent choir. I aspire to be a British composer.

(Left to Right: Łukasz Farcinkiewicz [organist, pianist, composer extraordinaire]; Paweł Łukaszewski [herr-maestro-doctor-professor, master-composer, almighty-conductor]; Douglas Pew-szewskiewicz [wanna-be])

For me, the nicest compliment of the day came from a nice older lady I met after the Mass as we made our way to the catacombs. Her husband had once been a famous organist and they stopped Paweł to talk for a minute. When he introduced me, the lady, who didn't speak English said, "Kyrie" (that's the first movement of my Mass) with great feeling, demonstrating with her facial and gestural expressions, how much she enjoyed it. Then, she said the same, but with more feeling about another movement, "Sanctus, oh Sanctus". I could see in her eyes and by the way she said the titles of the pieces that she was really moved by these pieces. This made me very happy. I'm so please that this music can be meaningful and affect strong emotions from people on a spiritual level.

It was also very nice to have a handful of LDS friends attend the service, including the Jensen's, a couple who is on a mission in Warsaw from Alpine, UT. They invited me over for dinner tonight and we talked at length about music and the creative process. They were both so very kind with their comments.

2. Concert Review (Łukaszewski)

Last Saturday, 17 March, was the final concert in a series of the 2011/12 season featuring Paweł's music at the National Philharmonic; he is the current composer-in-residence. It was a choral concert organized by the National Philharmonic Chorus. The concert paired some of Paweł's works with those of Polish composer Józef Elsner, who was Chopin's teacher. The idea of the concert was very interesting, they performed "Ave Maria", "Nunc Dimittis", "Veni Creator", and a Mass setting by both composers. The "Ave Maria" and "Nunc Dimittis" of Elsner were quite nice with solid harmony and some delightful melodies. However, the Elsner "Veni Creator" and "Msza F-dur" were forgettable, especially the "Msza". Chopin certainly inherited a good harmonic foundation from his teacher, but he far surpassed his mentor in invention, development, and color. It was always so refreshing to transition from Elsner's late Classical-period aesthetic to Paweł's sumptuous "renewed-tonality" harmonies. This was most noticeable with the "Nunc Dimittis" hand-off. Somehow that little piece, made up of quite simple materials but compiled superbly, glows with harmonic warmth. Whenever I hear it, I never want it to end. I was also very impressed with Paweł's "Veni Creator", it was my first hearing. It displayed a side of him with which I was not familiar, a more agressive and somewhat avante garde style. But it was a effective combination of dissonance, consonance, driving rhythms, and choral color as the 2 choirs tossed the musical materials back and forth creating interesting sonic events.

One of the delights of attending this concert was the opportunity I had to sit with Paweł's teacher, the great, Professor Marian Borkowski.

Professor Borkowski has been the most important teacher of composition in Poland for the past 40 years. He is a very kind and generous man who has a vast, seemingly unending amount of musical knowledge and wisdom. In the mid-1960s he spent 2 years in France studying with the most famous teacher of conducting and composition of the 20th century, Nadia Boulanger. One of his fellow students was Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the uber-famous British conductor and early music specialist. He also studied composition with Olivier Messiaen, Stockhausen, Ligeti and Xenakis. If you're not familiar with these names, they are some of the most important names in contemporary composition from the 60s and 70s. I felt very honored to be able to add him to my lineage of composition teachers.

Also attending this concert were many of the members of the Musica Sacra choir and other friends and family of Paweł's. It was great to see him get so much well-deserved attention. When I went to find him during intermission, he was busy signing autographs. A good friend of mine and fellow Fulbright-er, William (Bill) Helmke and I are beginning a project in which we will be analyzing and writing about Paweł's music. We plan to create a detailed Wikipedia page, a YouTube page and to have multiple articules published in North American journals of choral music in addition to sizable contributions to a book that the Chopin University is organizing about his music. We are just getting started, but we are excited to be able to work towards getting Paweł's name and music into the hands and hearts of many more performers and music lovers. He is very flattered by our interest in analyzing his music and always asks us, "is there anything to analyze?" We spent about 2 hours discussing just one little choral piece the other day. Yes Paweł, there is quite a lot to analyze, and we hope to get it spread around for many more to enjoy.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weeks 23-26: Staying Busy

It's been about a month since my last post, I have been very busy composing, preparing for my recital and preparing the district choir for our LDS conference with Apostle, Elder D. Todd Christofferson.


Work on my dissertation is going well. This is my first time composing a work for choir and orchestra which has a set of unique challenges. The main issue is making sure the choir can be heard over the orchestra. There are many pieces that do not succeed as far as this is concerned. If it were possible to have a choir the size of some Berlioz's choirs of 500 or 600, we would always here the choir. Other composers, like Faure, who composed his Requiem for small orchestra and small or medium chorus, chose to employ only the lower strings (violas, cellos, and double basses), and small winds and brass. Since it is quite rare to have such a large symphonic chorus, I have decided to go the Faure route and use a small orchestra, maybe 21 strings (, double woodwinds, 2 horns, and a chamber organ.

Aside from the challenge of composing for this set of instruments and voices, the challenge I continue to face is a stylistic one. As I've mentioned before, I have somewhat of a split personality as a composer. On the one hand, I compose sacred music that stylistically and harmonically follows the line of the traditional tonal methods of composition, albeit with my own modern twist of harmony, or as my teacher calls it, a 'renewed' tonality. On the other hand, I compose music in a more modern, quais-avante garde vein. When most hear about avante garde music today, they think of lots of noise, really heavy dissonance, sometimes computer music, and other atonal or microtonal practices. This is not the kind of avante garde that I personally subscribe to. My type of avante garde is rooted very deeply in the standard repertoire and most especially in the standard presentation of musical phrase and form. I do, on occasion, briefly use atonality here and there, but it is alway to serve the drama or story of the piece. For me, it is a tool that I can use to depict a certain kind of emotion, or evoke a certain affect. My type of avante garde music, unlike so much current avante garde practices, is very interested in evoking emotions and affects from the listeners. I subscribe very faithfully to the 'doctrine of affections' and seek to define new ways of conjuring affects through modern music. Take for example my work Sapiyuq Llaqtakuna ('Mother Earth' in Quechua) for Soprano and 4 male percussionists. Score. Recording. Though very modern, I went to great lengths in composing the work, to squeeze out every bit of emotion I could. Take a look at the 3 poems I used, they are translated in the first few pages of the score. There is quite a lot of emotion, exclamations to "Father, Mountain God" and a great deal of sorrow at the end of the 2nd poem. I think I did a pretty good job of depicting the emotions of these poems, but it is in a very different way than you find in a Brahms string quartet or violin sonata. But the architecture is there, the highs and lows, the climaxes and anti-climaxes, and a very careful sense of harmony to enhance the emotional content. For me, harmony is the best tool for emotion, followed shortly by form.

What does all of this have to do with my dissertation? Well, this new piece is one that falls on my sacred side. I've spent most of my time in Poland working on this sacred side, but when I come to the orchestra, it is hard to beat down the tendencies of the avante garde side. This has resulted in several false starts with orchestration that were a grayish mediocre kind of mess. To the trash!! I've now got some good Faure-like sounds and orchestral colors happening in the first few movements with my sense of 'renewed' tonality, which usually ends up sounding on the French side of harmony with a few German and personal additions. So, it's coming along, but I have to remind myself that I can't just whip this out. I need to really take my time and control myself so that I don't get that grayish mess again.


Last Sunday, March 4th, I was privileged to give a recital of my compositions at the Chopin University.  I sand 3 hymn arrangements, 2 with piano and 1 with organ: Jesus Savior Pilot Me, Oh May My Soul Commune with Thee, and Abide with Me! Then, my friend Artur performed by Bagatelles for Solo Piano (here's a score and recording #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7). He did an excellent job, these are hard pieces. The final number on the program was Missa 'Musica Sacra' for choir and organ. My teacher, Pawel Lukaszewski, conducted his Musica Sacra choir in a very nice performance. Here is a live recording. Many friends from church, school, the choir, and the Fulbright commission were able to attend. I was very happy with all of the performances and to be able to share my music with many friends. I don't have the video ready yet, but here is a picture of the choir. I'm hiding in the back. I forgot to bring my camera but hope to have the video up soon.


On the morning of the recital day, we had a wonderful conference of the LDS church with Elder Christofferson and 2 of the members of the Eastern European Area Presidency and their wives. It was a great occasion and many members came from across Poland to participate. The large conference room at the hotel was full for both the Saturday evening and Sunday morning meetings. On Saturday afternoon we had a priesthood leadership training meeting with the visiting authorities and about 40-50 men. We all had a chance to be taught by, shake hands, and mingle with these great men. On Sunday morning the choir met early to warm-up and rehearse. We had about 40 people, Poles and Americans (and one Brit), who gave wonderful performances of three hymns: Abide with Me!, How Firm a Foundation, and I Am a Child of God. We sang in Polish, some of us doing a lot of 'fake' Polish, focusing on the vowels. Polish is a very hard language to sing in, so many hard consonances and diphthongs. But we had great enthusiasm in our singing and filled the very poor acoustical hall with vibrant and rousing renditions. I was very proud of everyone and felt that their singing added greatly to the spirit of the meeting. Elders Christofferson, Kopischke, Schutze, and their wives were all very complimentary.


7 months ago today, August 11th, we packed our little family into the car and left the Cincinnati area where we had lived for 4 years. One month later, on September 11th, I boarded the plane that brought me to Poland. I was having a nostalgic moment earlier today thinking about all that has occurred since then. It's been a wild ride, but a good one. I've learned so much from my teacher and from my experiences in Poland. I've learned things about the gift of faith that I never supposed before. There is still a great deal of waiting and wondering to be done, as far as future employment and our long-term living situation goes, but I feel very grateful for this time. Our family is stronger than ever, our faith is stronger than ever, our determination is stronger than ever. We've been watched over very carefully by a loving Father in Heaven, we have felt His watchful concern very keenly. And we know that the only thing that can harm this relationship with Deity is our own disobedience and doubt. I thank thee Heavenly Father, I thank thee.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Week 21/22: Choir, Choir, and more Choir

The last two weeks have been full of choir rehearsals, preparing to conduct choir rehearsals, trying to remember my numbers in Polish so I don't sound completely retarded (just mostly retarded) in choir rehearsal, preparing arrangements for choir rehearsals, finding people to sing in church choirs, a very nice choir concert by the Polish Chamber Choir, composing new choral music, and a composition competition for sacred choral music.

Singing in choir. I really love singing in a good choir. There's something so satisfying about having your whole physical body as your instrument and resonating with others around you. Creating a beautifully blended choral sound is much harder than it seems on the surface. It takes a great deal of control for everyone to match their vowel sounds across the ensemble, to listen and balance a whole herd of differently colored voices, and have them all come together and agree on tempos, rubato sections, and expressive passages. This list could really go on and on. When all these things come together, the sound, and the sensation for the singers is wonderful and very addicting. We're really blessed to have such a wonderful vocal coach in our Musica Sacra Cathedral choir, Pawel's wife, Joanna Lukaszewska. She is so helpful in getting us thinking the right way for our vocal mechanisms to work correctly and together. If the voices are not working together technically, no amount of expression or style or anything else can make up for it. Hard work.

Conducting a choir. I was fortunate to receive my conducting training from a very gifted orchestral conductor, Robert Tueller. I worked on that technique through conducting student and community orchestras while living in Idaho. I later had great training in choral conducting while at CCM from Brett Scott, a fine Canadian conductor. Between the two, orchestral and choral conducting, I'm still more comfortable with orchestral ensembles. I feel a little naked without my baton--it's a whole different set of gestures and movements to invoke good vocal and breathing technique. This seems a little weird to me as I think about it because I've been singing in choirs most of my life, but I've only played in orchestras since I picked up the double bass during my bachelors degree. I spent a great deal of time working as a pianist with string players, and then I married one. A lot of my advanced musical learning happened during the time when I was developing that side of my musicality. Maybe that's part of it. I think the hardest thing about choral conducting, at least for me, is not singing along with the choir. This is a very common bad habit among conductors, and not only choral conductors.  This is something that every conducting teacher tries to knock out of their students from the beginning. As the conductor, your first and most important job is to judge, gently correct, and evoke greater performances from your musicians. The truth is, how can you hear what your ensemble is doing, and therefore, how can you adequately judge their performance and know how to help them correct their playing or singing if the main thing you're hearing is your own voice? As one who loves to sing, this is especially hard when conducting a choir. I want to join in the fun of singing. It is even more difficult for me to control this urge when conducting a less polished choir ('polished', as in furniture polish, not 'Polish-ed' like the country or people). It seems so easy to just sing their part for them so they can hear it and then sing it correctly. This might be okay once or twice to help them along, but then having already allowed myself to vocalize, it becomes even harder to hold back. I heard a choral conducting teacher from Eastman say that singing their parts for them as a means of helping them get it right should not be the conductors first 'go-to', to fix the problem. First, let them try it a second time without giving any correction. If they mess up again, have the pianist play their part and then try a third time. Then, if they continue to sing it incorrectly, sing it for or with them. (I'm sure that if anyone from my Mormon church choir is reading this, they're probably thinking to themselves, "you sang all during rehearsal tonight, what's the deal?" Yes, I know, and I'm sorry. Like I said, it's hard for me to control sometimes, especially when our time to prepare is short and what will most likely fix most peoples problems in this case is having a strong singer next to them blasting their part in their ears. I shouldn't try to be both the conductor and the helpful neighbor singer. Bad habit.) But, like singing in a choir, even the most amateur choir, when we get it right and become many voices but one sound, it is very exhilarating to conduct a choir.

Composing for choir. I know I've gone on and on before about my teacher Pawel Lukaszewski, but he really is such a great composer and especially when it comes to writing for choir. My hope in coming to work with him was to get to know more intimately the inner workings of good choral writing. I'm certainly not fluent yet, but he has been such a great help. We had a 2 hour lesson this past week looking at some of my older choral pieces that were written before I had ever worked with a teacher who knew anything about choral techniques. It was so helpful, though humbling, to see where I had made mistakes and to understand how those mistakes effect the sound the choir makes. I realized in that lesson that I had always approached choral writing the way I would approach good string ensemble writing. Like in my conducting, I feel very comfortable in my writing when working with strings. Though I have spent far more time sing in choirs than playing in orchestras, I have spent far more time studying deeply the inner workings of good symphonic string writing than choral writing. It is common knowledge among composers that it is much more difficult to write for our own instrument that we've played for so many years, than for other instruments. We are so close to the instrument and it has become so natural for us, that it can be very difficult to back away and approach it from a compositional point of view rather than a performing point of view. This is true for me to an extent with piano music because I am a pianist, but it is even more the case when it comes to choral music. I have always felt that my most natural performing vehicle is my voice, and more specifically, my choral voice as opposed to my solo voice; that's a whole different thing. I'm learning now that I need to spend much more time analyzing and dissecting great choral works to observe the minutia from the composers point of view, the way I have done with string writing. There's so much to learn. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know and need to learn.

Upcoming Choral Performances. I am very pleased to have a good handful of performances coming up over the next 2 months. I will give a recital of my own compositions at the Chopin University on Sunday, 4 March (see Facebook for details). There will also be 5 additional performances of selections from my new, 6 movement choral piece Missa 'Musica Sacra' by choirs in Poland, Germany, and Cincinnati. Each of these performances will use the piece liturgically (in their church services [both Catholic and Episcopal]), as was my intent when writing the work. The best part of these performances has been the emails that I've received from the conductors as they prepare the works. They are very happy with the piece and find it fitting for their worship services. This really makes me feel glad, especially that they can be useful pieces for worship. I thought that many would not be interested in considering music by a Mormon composer for use in services of other denominations. I'm so glad to be able to share my feelings for God and Scripture through music and have it mean something to people of various faiths and affiliations.

Choral composition competitions. This weekend Pawel has been out of town facilitating the judging for a composition competition that he organizes every year. For this competition the applicants submit a cappella, sacred choral works in an attempt to win one of four prizes. http://www.competition.waw.pl/. There are the typical 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes which receive cash and performances by great choirs. The 4th award is labeled, "Special prize of the Archbishop of Cologne for liturgical character of the work". The city and clergy differ from year to year based on where the judging is held. Cash, a performance, and a recording are involved with this prize. I was very happy to receive word yesterday that I had won the award for the "liturgical character of the work" for my piece Agnus Dei for double chorus. It is the final movement of my Missa 'Musica Sacra' that I mentioned above re-arranged from the original SATB and organ to a double SATB a cappella setting. You can see the official announcement at this link. It will be performed and recorded at the Gaude Mater festival in Czestochowa during the first days of May. My teacher and I will travel together to be there for the festival performances and recording. I have won composition prizes before, but this is my first one for a choral piece, though I've tried many times. If I didn't already have proof enough that I was learning a ton from Pawel, I know have this tangible proof; I composed this piece under his tutelage. Thank you Pawel, you're the greatest!! It's really true. Gorecki's dead and Penderecki's getting really old. Who else is there in Poland who can match what you're accomplishing in choral music??!!!