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Lenten Recital March 2021

March 25, 2021

The Friday Lenten organ recital series was begun in the 1950s by Helen E.J. Thomas, and has continued ever since, serving the Madison community. Every year Dr. Anne and Patricia Ruggles usually give a recital in honor of Mrs. Thomas. It seems particularly appropriate this pandemic year, on the 15th anniversary of her passing that we honor women composers and composer of color. Dr. Anne’s pandemic practice project has been to bring some equity to her repertoire of organ music. Thank you for listening!

Helen E.J.Thomas 1917-March 26, 2006


Grace Church Lenten Organ Recital Series

March 26, 2021 1 p.m. streaming

Chaconne for Good Friday                         June Nixon (b. 1942)

Ise Oluwa (The Work of the Lord)            Godwin Sadoh (b. 1965)

Reflection on “Lift High The Cross”         Janet Linker

Were You There?                                         Calvin Taylor (b. 1948)

St. Clement                                                  Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927)

Spiritual: Round About the Mountain      Noel Da Costa (1929-2002)

Crimmond (Psalm 23)                                 Barbara Harbach (b. 1946)

Adoration                                                    Florence Price (1887-1953)

Deep River                                                   Adolphus Hailstork (b.1941)

Great Day  Hailstork

June Nixon (b.1942) is one of Australia’s best known organists, choir trainers and composers. She was appointed Organist and Director of Music at St. Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne in 1973 and is on the teaching staff of Melbourne University Faculty of Music. A chaconne, or passacaglia is a set of variations over a bass line, in this case the organ pedals.

June Nixon

Godwin Sadoh is a Nigerian ethnomusicologist, composer, church musician, pianist, organist, and choral conductor, whose compositions have been performed and recorded worldwide. In his own words: (credit: “I developed interest in playing musical instruments when I joined the choir at Saint Paul’s Anglican Church, Idi-Oro, Lagos, and my high school choir. I was exposed to piano at school, while I was introduced to piano and organ at Saint Paul’s Church and Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, where I saw the magnificent pipe organ for the first time in my life. It was an awesome experience to behold the size of the organ. I enjoyed listening mainly to Western classical music during my youthful days, but developed interest for traditional and popular music when I went to the university to study music in Nigeria and the United States. My favorite composer is the most famous Nigerian composer, Fela Sowande (1905-1987), because he was an organist and a composer. I learned a lot about organ composition from his organ works. At the end of each service on Sundays, I always ran as quickly as I could after the recession of the choir from the church, back to seat as close as possible to observe the organist play the postlude.  It was heavenly for me.  I would watch the feet of the organist as they move on the pedals and saw the pulling out of the stops and change of sound.  I wanted to play the massive instrument so badly and accompany the congregation in singing.” Ise Oluwa is a Yoruba Hymn meaning “the work of the Lord will never be destroyed.”

Godwin Sadoh

Ohio organist Janet Rupp Linker’s Reflection on ‘Lift High the Cross’ sets the tune clearly and meditatively in the right hand. Janet Linker received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Organ Performance from Capital University and The University of Michigan (with Marilyn Mason).  She held church positions in Lubbock and Waco, Texas, Sacramento, California and Columbus, Ohio. She is now organist at Trinity United Methodist Church in Upper Arlington, Ohio. Mrs. Linker’s first teaching position was at Texas Tech Univ. in Lubbock, Texas. She taught at the Capital University Conservatory of Music for over 30 years. For many years she played for various events at the Ohio Theatre, on the well-known “Mighty Morton” theatre organ.

Janet Linker

Calvin Taylor (b. 1948) was born in Los Angeles, California. The composer, pianist, and organist made history at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1970 when he became the first organist in the school’s over 155-year history to improvise a graduate concert encore. Dr. Taylor is known for his orchestral works as well has his organ music such as Five Spirituals for Organ, 1998 and Spiritual Suite for Organ, 2002, commissioned by and dedicated to Dr. Marilyn Mason, with whom he studied at the University of Michigan. Never far from his roots in religious music, Taylor has traveled for many years throughout the U.S.A. presenting thousands of concerts in America’s churches, and has toured the world. Were You There is a setting filled with both anguish and clear delineation of the tune.

Calvin Taylor

Emma Lou Diemer was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on November 24, 1927. Her great interest in composing music began at a young age and she majored in composition at the Yale School of Music (BM, 1949; MM, 1950). She went on to study composition in Brussels, Belgium on a Fulbright Scholarship from 1952 to 1953, ultimately returning to the United States to receive her Ph.D. from the Eastman School of Music in 1960. She was professor of theory and composition at the University of Maryland 1965-70, and joined the faculty of the University of California (UCSB) in 1971 where she has been professor emeritus since1991. Diemer has written many works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, keyboard, voice, chorus, and electronic media. As a keyboard performer she has given concerts of her own organ works at Washington National Cathedral, The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Grace Cathedral and St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, and others. Her compositional style over the years has varied from tonal to atonal, from traditional to experimental. This traditional and lovely setting of the evening hymn ST. CLEMENT is from a collection called “Organ Voluntaries on Saintly Tunes” (2012).

Emma Lou Diemer

Although of Jamaican parentage, Noel Da Costa (1929-2002) was born in Lagos Nigeria. He later moved to Jamaica, coming to the U.S. at age 11. He pursued his musical education at Queens College (CUNY) and Columbia University, where he was awarded the Seidl Fellowship in Music Composition. Subsequently, he studied with Luigi Dallapiccola in Florence under a Fulbright Scholarship. Da Costa served as Professor of Music in the Mason Gross School of Fine Arts at Rutgers University from 1970 to his death. (notes by Michael Thomas Terry, African-American Organ Music Vol. 5). I love the dark, bluesy setting of Round About the Mountain, a spiritual which has had other classical settings. (Here is Florence Quivar singing it).

Noel Da Costa (1929-2002)

Dr. Barbara Harbach, Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emerita of Music, University of Missouri-St. Louis has had a distinguished career as composer, harpsichordist, organist and teacher. She founded Women in the Arts-St. Louis to highlight women’s work and gain more performances for musicians and composers. A number of her pieces have been recorded by the Slovak Symphony Orchestra; its recording of a collection of her music released in 2008 received three major classical music awards. In 1989 Harbach founded the small Vivace Press, to publish music by underrepresented composers. In 1993 she was a co-founder of the journal, Women of Note Quarterly, and continues as its editor. The full title of this piece is Crimmond: The Lord’s My Shepherd, I Shall Not Want – Fantasy Toccata and Variations. The fanfare-like toccata both opens and closes the work. My favorite variation is the third, which uses “Amazing Grace” as a counter-melody.

Barbara Harbach

Florence Price (1887-1953) was born into a middle-class family in Little Rock, Arkansas. She attended New England Conservatory, one of the few conservatories to admit African-Americans at that time. She returned to Arkansas, married and began to raise a family, composing songs, short pieces and music for children. In 1927 she moved to Chicago, divorced her abusive husband and began to compose larger works as well. Price was the first black woman to have her music played by a major American orchestra when the Chicago Symphony performed her Symphony in E Minor in 1933. She sketched or finished 4 symphonies, wrote songs setting to music poems by Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and became well-known for her arrangements of spirituals. Her orchestral music is Dvorak-like in that it is well-orchestrated late Romantic style claiming elements of the African-American heritage in references to jazz, spirituals, and chromaticism with a luminous quality uniquely her own. You can read more about her in my blog from August 1, 2020 (and many other better sources!), from when I played the organ piece “In Quiet Mood.” Adoration is simple and lovely.

Florence Price (1887-1953)

Adolphus Hailstork received his doctorate in composition from Michigan State University, having previously studied at the Manhattan School of Music, under Vittorio Giannini and David Diamond, at the American Institute at Fontainebleau with Nadia Boulanger, and at Howard University with Mark Fax. Dr. Hailstork has written numerous works for chorus, solo voice, piano, organ, various chamber ensembles, band, orchestra, and opera which have been performed by major ensembles around the country. In a wonderful recent interview on YouTube, Dr. Hailstork explains how although his music is influenced by African American culture, he is steeped in classical and liturgical traditions. He is currently working on his Fourth Symphony, and A KNEE ON A NECK (tribute to George Floyd) for chorus and orchestra. Dr. Hailstork resides in Virginia Beach Virginia, and is Professor of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Deep River is simple and touching setting of the spiritual, while Great Day (the Righteous Marching!) is a rousing ending with cheerful, jazzy rhythms. The tune is shared by pedals and right hand. Right before the end there are a series of really dissonant chords (like the last gasp of protest) before the final triumphant ending.

Adolphus Hailstork

This Lenten Recital is in memory of Helen E.J. Thomas, soloist, organist and choir director of Grace Church for over fifty years.  Helen E.J. Thomas (1917- March 26, 2006) was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. She began studying music at the age of 4. She started her career in liturgical music while attending Barnard College in New York City, N.Y., singing in the choirs of St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University and Temple Emanu-el on Fifth Avenue in New York. Following graduation from Barnard in 1938 with a degree in economics, she married Morgan G. Thomas. Mrs. Thomas was named assistant organist in 1957. She was a trained and talented soprano, as evidenced in a 1962 LP the choir made with The Baroque Chamber Orchestra and The Choirs of Grace Church featuring Handel’s Laudate Pueri, with Helen Thomas, soprano.

Mrs. Thomas in rehearsal

For nearly 50 years she served generations of youth and adults at Grace, mentoring young singers and instilling in them a love of music.  Among her other achievements at Grace, she designed the Cutler Memorial Organ, which took the church from a small six rank organ to 35 ranks plus eight ranks in the gallery. In 1969 Helen Thomas replaced Marino Nardelli as organist/choir director, building a large choir program. In 1991 Helen Thomas retired as organist choir director, but stayed on as organist emerita, playing the 7:30 service.

Dr. Anne Matlack holds degrees from Yale University and the College-Conservatory of Music (University of Cincinnati.)  She has been organist/choir director at Grace Episcopal Church for 30 years, directing a full program of children and adult choirs and a concert series, Grace Community Music. She is also Artistic Director of Harmonium Choral Society, recognized for its musical excellence and innovative programming. In August 2015 members of the Grace Church Choirs and Harmonium served as choir-in-residence at Winchester Cathedral.  She is the 2003 recipient of the Arts Council of the Morris Area’s Outstanding Professional in the Arts. Her organ teachers have included Charles Krigbaum (Yale) and David Mulbury (Cincinnati). Dr. Anne currently serves as President of the NJ Chapter of the American Choral Director’s Association.

Dr. Anne at the Cutler Memorial organ (Tellers)

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