Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Simple Gifts 3

Those last two posts about the song "Simple Gifts" make even more sense in the arc of my life when you consider this:

Too many years ago, when I was a freshman music major in college, I took my first conducting class. I remember we spent almost a week perfecting our downbeat (you have to let it drop with intention, but not too tense or controlled).

This was a Christian college, and much of the class was focused on congregational songleading. This was in the day when most churches were led in worship by a gentleman who stood at the front and "conducted" the congregation, while being accompanied by the piano. I knew how to do this well simply because it was the way of the church I had grown up in; as it happened, the gentleman who led our church was usually my father, and the pianist was usually my mother. So I had seen first-hand how congregational songleading went.

I was eager to push things out a bit more, and found my chance when we were given our final assignment. Each member of the class was to pick a song and teach it to either the college choir or orchestra, and then conduct that group  in that song during a concert.

Since I was in the orchestra (and not the choir), I naturally decided to conduct the orchestra. I spent a few dusty hours one afternoon going through the school's music library. Most of the songs there were of the Christian Music genre. Variations on "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace," "Fantasia on Psalm 95," and the like. Nothing grabbed my attention.

Until, somewhere in the back of the file as if forgotten, I found the orchestration to Copland's "Simple Gifts" from Appalachian Spring. And I knew that was the one. (side note: I never really wondered until now how this "secular" song by a non-Christian composer ever made it into their library. I'm sure if they knew more about the real person of Copland, this song would not have been allowed. So finding it was a tiny bit of fresh air, the beauty of the outside world breaking into such a stifling, insulated, controlling atmosphere).

I pulled the parts, organized them all, and confidently (or at least I was pretending) handed them out to the orchestra a few days later. We ran through it a couple times. And the string players all grumbled at the cascading, screaming lines there about the 2 minute mark. But we worked on it (I even had the chance to do some personal work with one of the cuter string players (which was a no-no at this conservative Bible College but I did it anyway)), and we made some cuts and we rearranged a few things, and eventually, early in the spring, in a concert of the Prairie Bible College Orchestra, I conducted my first real orchestral work ever. And I must say, it went well.

This isn't a recording of that concert. I'm sure this is much better than we did. But this is the song (well, up until about the 3-minute mark) I conducted, the first major work of my short musical career.

And it's a beautiful song, one that I still listen to quite often, when I need a little peace of mind.

1 comment:

Edie Morgan said...

Definitely one of my all time favorite songs.