His Mighty Love Is Without End was chosen to be performed at an Iowa Composers Forum conference in May of 2010, a few weeks after I graduated from Drake with my bachelor’s degrees. The concert took place at a local church, and afterwards I was approached by an elderly man named Mr. Caspers. He was not a composer or a member of ICF, but was a retired minister from the church where the concert was held. In his hand was a small card with a poem written by his late wife, which he gave to me with the request that I consider setting it to music. I was amazed that this perfect stranger would trust a young composer like me with something so special as his beloved wife’s creation, but I gratefully accepted it with the determination that one day I would complete his request.
I kept that little card with me as I moved to Michigan for graduate school. I kept telling myself I needed to go back to it, but I was in the process of finishing a large work for wind ensemble. Finally, in my second semester, I felt that it was time. My composition teacher, Dr. Maurtua, challenged me to be creative in the voice parts that I chose instead of settling for a traditional arrangement, so I decided on alto solo (representing the wife’s voice) with men’s choir (representing the strong support she had from her husband). The piece was named after the poem: Mind, Body, Soul At Prayer.
In the process of composing the choir piece, I’d set the playback sounds on my music notation program to strings, since the MIDI choir sounds are pretty much terrible. My teacher remarked that the piece would sound good as a string orchestra arrangement, and thus my next project was decided. The string orchestra version, titled At Prayer, went on to win the orchestral composition competition at CMU, and it was performed in April 2012 under the direction of Dr. Maurtua, the same professor who’d helped me write it. (You can listen to the full performance here.)
At this point in time, I was taking a course in Psychoacoustics (the study of sound perception), which I absolutely loved! The professor of this course, who also directs CMU’s Women’s Chorus, attended the concert where At Prayer was premiered, and upon learning that the piece originated as a choir piece, he asked if I had an arrangement of it for women’s choir. I didn’t, but I told him I could write one fairly easily, which I proceeded to do. He was thrilled with it, and now it’s scheduled to be premiered this school year.
What I learned from all this is to never discount any person or circumstance in life, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant. I’m humbled that a complete stranger’s nearly blind trust in an up-and-coming composer and my decision to honor that trust resulted in such an amazing turn of events in my life and career. Mr. Caspers didn’t discount me, and I’m so glad I didn’t discount him or his wife’s poem! You just never know who you might impact or who might be impacted by you.
P.S. If you’re curious, I did send the original choir arrangement to Mr. Caspers, who was very pleased with the outcome.
[September 1, 2012]