Choral Icons of the Last 30 Years

In selecting music for this concert, I wanted to recognize the composers that shaped the choral art during the time that Voces Novae has existed. Since VN’s mission includes promoting new music of American composers, most of the composers on today’s concert are already familiar to our members and audiences. However, some of the selections on the program will be new or lesser-known. This program includes repertoire by female and African-American composers
which also reflects the trajectory of choral music over the past three decades.

We open our concert today with music by Dr. René Clausen (b. 1953). Conductor of the world-renowned Concordia College Choir for 34 years, Dr. Clausen retired from teaching in 2020, but continues to compose. With over 130 compositions, Clausen is perhaps the most performed composer by Voces Novae. Long-time VN audience members certainly will remember “All That Life and Breath, Praise Ye the Lord”, “Deep River” and “Set Me as a Seal.” Clausen’s compositional
output includes not only choral music, but also music for orchestra, wind band and film. He has several major works for chorus and orchestra. Today, we are performing one of his lesser-known pieces. Laudate was commissioned and premiered by the Floyd Central High School A CappellaChoir in 2000. The text is from Psalm 117 and alternates between Latin and English. While many of Clausen’s settings are lyrical and lush, this one is more rhythmic and dissonant. It is characterized by meter changes (over 40 of them) and a contrapuntal texture, making it interesting for the audience, but quite challenging for the choir.

Praise the Lord.
O praise God in His sanctuary, praise Him in the firmament of his power,
Praise Him in His noble acts, praise Him according to His excellent greatness.
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet, praise Him upon the lute and harp.
Praise Him in the timbrel and the dance, Sing praise to God, Sing praises to the Lord.
Praise Him upon the strings and pipe, praise Him upon the well-tuned cymbal,
Praise Him on the loud cymbal.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Amen.

The music of Morten Lauridsen occupies a permanent place in the standard vocal repertoire of the Twenty-First Century. His eight vocal cycles, instrumental works, art songs and series of motets (including O Magnum Mysterium) are performed throughout the world and have been recorded on over two hundred CDs, including several that received Grammy nominations.
Mr. Lauridsen (b. 1943) served as Composer-in-Residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1995-2001 and is currently Distinguished Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. An award-winning documentary by Michael Stillwater, Shining Night – A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen, was released in 2012 ( In 2006, Morten Lauridsen was named an “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2007 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest artistic award in the United States, by the President in a White House ceremony “for his composition of radiant choral works combining musical beauty, power, and spiritual depth.” O Magnum Mysterium, written in 1994, is Lauridsen’s best-selling and best known

O great mystery, and wondrous sacrament,
That animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in their manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dan Forrest (b. 1978) has been described as having “an undoubted gift for writing beautiful music….that is truly magical” (NY Concert Review), with works hailed as “magnificent, very cleverly constructed sound sculpture” (Classical Voice), and “superb writing…full of spine-tingling moments” (Salt Lake Tribune). His music has sold millions of copies, has received numerous awards and distinctions, and has become well established in the repertoire of choirs
around the world via festivals, recordings, radio/TV broadcasts, and premieres in prominent international venues. Dan’s work ranges from small choral works to instrumental solo works, wind ensemble works, and extended multi-movement works for chorus and orchestra. His Requiem for the Living (2013) and Jubilate Deo (2016) have become standard choral/orchestral repertoire for ensembles around the world, with the Requiem receiving over 1000 performances around the world, and LUX (2018) and the breath of life (2020) also receiving critical acclaim. With soaring melodic lines and a fiery piano accompaniment, The Music of Living (2011) is an exuberant anthem celebrating the joy of life.

Giver of life, Creator of all that is lovely,
Teach me to sing the words to Your song.
I want to feel the music of living; And not fear the sad songs,
But from them make new songs composed of both laughter and tears.
Teach me to dance to the sounds of Your world.
I want to move in rhythm with Your plan.
Help me to follow Your leading, to risk even falling, to rise and keep trying,
For You are leading the dance.

Perhaps the most well-known composer featured on today’s program is Eric Whitacre (b. 1970). Whitacre, a Grammy Award winning composer has written pieces for concert band, symphonic orchestra, film and solo voice, as well as choir. He is well known for his virtual choirs and his TED talks. His musical interests are vast, having collaborated with Hans Zimmer, Imogen Heap, Annie Lennox, The King’s Singers, Chanticleer and orchestras across the globe. In his harmonic language, Whitacre has perfected the use of tone clusters – stacking notes on top of one another creating chords that are neither major, nor minor. His textures are often rich and dense, sometimes splitting the voice parts into 3 or 4 divisions each. Sleep (2000-2002) has an  interesting compositional story. In its original form, the text was Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. It premiered in 2000. However, Whitacre had not secured the rights from the Frost estate to use the poem and lost a legal battle to publish the piece with that text. Determined to find a solution, Whitacre enlisted Charles Anthony Silvestri, a poet with whom he had collaborated on other projects, to pen a new text that would fit the music. The result is the piece we are presenting today.

The evening hangs beneath the moon, a silver thread on darkened dune.
With closing eyes and resting head I know that sleep is coming soon.
Upon my pillow, safe in bed, a thousand pictures fill my head,
I cannot sleep, my mind’s aflight; And yet my limbs seem made of lead.
If there are noises in the night, A frightening shadow, flickering light;
Then I surrender unto sleep, where clouds of dream give second sight.
What dreams may come, both dark and deep,
Of flying wings and soaring leap as I surrender unto sleep

Rosephanye Powell (b. 1962) is one of the most prolific African-American female composers of our lifetime. Her pieces are widely performed by top choral ensembles and festival choruses across the nation. A singer, editor and teacher, Dr. Powell has earned wide acclaim and is commissioned by choruses all over the world. Dr. Powell is Professor of Voice at Auburn University. She is respected for her research in the music of William Grant Still, the African-American Spiritual and vocal health. The Word Was God, written in 1996, was her first published work. It was written for her husband’s choir, the Philander Smith Collegiate Choir, in Little Rock, Arkansas. The text comes from John 1:1-3.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made that have been made. Nothing was made, He has not made.

The newest composer on our program, Susan LaBarr (b. 1981) has only been composing for a decade. Influenced by contemporary broadway, folk music and R&B, she infuses pop elements into her choral writing. Her music often has a pop ballad structure, as does the piece we sing today. Our audiences may remember “Fly” or “My Very Own” which we performed in 2019. LaBarr began her musical career in the publishing business which led her into composition. Today, she is the primary editor for Walton Music. We Remember Them (2019) is a reflective tribute to those who have gone before us. The text by Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer comes from Gates of Prayer: A New Union Prayerbook. Our performance of this piece today is in memory of all former Voces Novae members who have passed from this life.

At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer;
At the opening of the buds and in rebirth of spring;
At the rising of the sun and at its going down;
We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter;
At the rustling of the leaves and beauty of autumn time;
At the start of the year and when it ends;
We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live.
When we are weary and in need of strength;
When we are lost and sick at heart;
When we have joy we crave to share;
We remember them.

Considered “one of the best of the younger American composers” (Chicago Tribune), EMMY®-winning and GRAMMY®-nominated composer and conductor Jake Runestad (b. 1986) has received commissions and performances from leading ensembles and organizations such as Washington National Opera, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, the Pacific Symphony & Chorale, True Concord Voices & Orchestra, the Netherlands Radio Choir, the Philippine Madrigal Singers, Seraphic Fire, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, and many more. “The Hope of Loving,” the first album dedicated to Jake’s choral music, recorded by professional American choir Conspirare, received a GRAMMY® nomination. In 2019, Jake became one of the youngest composers ever awarded the prestigious Raymond C. Brock commission by the American Choral Directors Association. “Earth Symphony,” Jake’s ground-breaking choral symphony written with librettist Todd Boss, earned a 2022 EMMY® Award for musical composition. Jake’s visceral music and charismatic personality have fostered a busy schedule of commissions, residencies, workshops, and conducting engagements, enabling him to share his passion for creativity, expressivity, and community with musicians around the world. Dubbed a “choral rockstar” by American Public Media, Jake is one of the most frequently performed composers of concert music. His thoughtful and compelling works “that speak to some of the most pressing and moving issues of our time” (Star Tribune), have been heard in thousands of performances across the globe. Jake Runestad holds a Master’s degree in composition from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University where he studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts.
Wild Forces (2015) is a movement from The Hope of Loving. The text is by St. Francis of Assisi.

There are beautiful, wild forces within us.
Let them turn millstones inside filling bushels that reach to the sky.

Z. Randall Stroope (b. 1953) is a favorite composer of Voces Novae – We have performed more than a dozen of his pieces. Dr. Stroope has published over 200 compositions ranging from music for children’s choirs to multi-movement works with orchestra. He is highly sought as a clinician and conductor. A teacher of voice, Dr. Stroope’s music is enjoyed by singers because he writes beautiful melodic lines that fit the voice well. Many of his compositions are emotional poems or historical texts. The text for Amor de mi Alma is both of those. The poet is Garcilaso de la Gega, who wrote in Spain in the early 1500s. Stroope set it to music in 2001.

I was born to love only you;
My soul has formed you to its measure;
I want you as a garment for my soul.
Your very image is written on my soul;
Such indescribable intimacy
I hide even from you.
All that I have, I owe to you;
For you I was born, for you I live,
For you I must die, and for you I give my last breath.

Unlike the other composers featured in this concert, Stacey V. Gibbs (b. 1962) is not a career composer. He makes his living in hospitality management but has published over 80  arrangements of spirituals. Gibbs studied at Kentucky State University where he was a student conductor. It was there that he met William Dawson who influenced his arranging of spirituals. Gibbs is recognized as one of the most prominent arrangers of spirituals today. He is skilled at bringing new life to these traditional songs without compromising their authenticity. Rhythmic and energetic, his music is powerful. With an infectious groove, Sit Down Servant (2013)  explodes with joy through Gibbs’ use of syncopation and dynamic contrast.

Moses Hogan (1957-2003) is credited with the revitalization of the performance of African-American spirituals which began in the late 20th century. A classically trained musician who studied at Oberlin, Juilliard and Louisiana State, Hogan elevated the melodies of the spirituals in his arrangements by creating rich textures and energetic rhythmic patterns. In his short life, he created over 70 arrangements of spirituals. Many of his arrangements were made popular through the recordings of the Moses Hogan Chorale and are enthusiastically performed by choirs all over the world. My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord was written in 1998 and is one of Hogan’s most performed arrangements.

Elaine Hagenberg’s (b. 1979) music “soars with eloquence and ingenuity” (ACDA Choral Journal). Her award-winning compositions are performed worldwide and frequently featured at American Choral Directors Association conferences, All-State festivals, Carnegie Hall, and other  distinguished international concert halls from Australia to South America and throughout Europe. In addition to composing full-time, Elaine actively engages in bringing her music to life as the guest artist and featured clinician for professional conferences and festivals both in the U.S. and abroad as a composer, conductor, and accompanist of her work. With over fifty commissioned works, she has composed new music for the American Choral Directors Association, professional choirs, colleges and universities, community choirs, high schools, and churches. “I Am the Wind” was named the winner of the 2020 ACDA Brock Competition for Professional Composers. Deep Peace (2021) was commissioned for Christ Church United Methodist here in Louisville. Voces Novae sang Deep Peace in London, England last June along
with Elaine’s extended work, Illuminare. The text is a traditional Gaelic Blessing.

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ, the light of the world to you.

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