The Miracle — Concerto for Piano & Orchestra
It's nothing new to write a piece of music as an expression of Christian faith and the beheld attributes of God. Johann Sebastian Bach was convinced that “the aim and final reason, as of all music…should be none else but the Glory of God and recreation of the mind. Where this is not observed, there will be no real music but only a devilish hubbub.”*Nobody composes music, paints, or writes poetry to convince the observer of something he or she knows is not true — to convey a lie. The goal of the artist is to present a piece of work which will possess an innate authority and strength which only truth can provide. For me, the Bible has that ring of truth. Absolutely loaded with images and thoughts which directly apply to my life, it is a natural resource to help me express myself musically. Heinrich Shütz, a great composer of the seventeenth century, depended upon it almost entirely for his inspiration: “…the textual foundation for almost all his surviving music is the Bible. He seems to have had little interest in writing instrumental music. Instead, he seems to have been driven by the challenge of bringing the Bible to life.”*
Being an instrumentalist (you don't want to hear me sing), I am of the persuasion that it is possible for any, even nonverbal, artistic discipline to “bring it to life”. If the Bible is true, then God intends for it to be known. If God created our imagination — our individual, creative gifts — then it follows that he would approve of, and even assist in, our using whatever they are to communicate what we learn from Scripture, since the whole reason for the Bible's existence is to reveal and glorify God. Martin Luther said, “I would like to see all arts in the service of Him who made them”*.
A concerto is an unusual format for “sacred” music. But antiphony isn't. Our relationship to God is antiphonal (when we're paying attention); so I like the idea of using the concerto form to represent fellowship between God and the human beings he created.
The title, “The Miracle”, refers to the amazing offer from God — the beginning and creator of everything — of the gift of complete, eternal fulfillment through faith in Jesus Christ. It occurred to me to deal musically with four aspects of this miracle, so here is my thinking about each movement, along with its biblical reference:
I (Allegro): Promise - Those who decide to believe God's offer will always receive hope and joy, along with the assurance that he will make good on it.
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed… — Romans 4:16
II (Grave): Struggle - Believers will still have to struggle in the world — although not without hope.
My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. — Psalms 119:50
III (Adagio pastoral): Faithfulness - God's faithfulness transcends the struggle.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. — Hebrews 10:23
IV (Vivo): Fulfillment - The inevitable, complete fulfillment of the promise.
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. — Revelation 19:11
I find these four movements to have parallels in my daily life. If I make a good decision (like to practice more regularly), I feel a sense of exhilaration and well-being from it, even though I can count on obstacles popping up (I don't feel like it today). It is only when I obediently stick to my decision that I allow the original truth and rightness of it ultimately, faithfully, to be proven out, and am able to receive the reward (I'll be able to play this thing).
A “promise theme” is introduced in the first movement and reappears in different ways throughout the concerto, to suggest how central God's promise is to our ability to have hope in this very complicated world.
*Dickson's The Story of Christian Music; Lion Pub.
Rhythms — for Piano, Winds & Percussion
"Rhythms" is composed as a single-movement concerto for piano and wind ensemble. Gene Aitken, an internationally-renowned music educator, commisioned me to write it while he was Music Director of the Washington Wind Symphony. My primary motivation with this piece was just to write something fun and challenging to play, with lots of interplay between soloist and orchestra.
The many meter changes — 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8 — have the effect of calling attention to the rhythmic nature of the piece, and also of creating, at first hearing, a rather unpredictable stream of events. (I like music that requires me to be alert.) When I am composing, it is only as I'm writing down the music that I am figuring out what the time signatures will need to be in order most naturally to express the melodic material that is going through my head. Hooked as I am on rhythm, I have yet to write a piece which does not place big importance upon melody. Indeed, a primary use for rhythm in my work is to propel a melody line.
— Walt Wagner
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