One of the many collaborative aspects of being a composer is the commissioning process. This may or may not involve the exchange of money, although some type of commitment from the commissioning organization is desirable. Sometimes a project can be quite lucrative financially, and sometimes the main reward comes from a superb performance or recording of the new work. The promise of additional performances by other organizations is also much appreciated. The collaborative aspect of the process can reveal itself in many ways, and will often result in tremendously rewarding partnerships. Collaborative commissions in which I have been involved have included texts being written by members of the commissioning organization, ensembles coming together to sponsor a joint project, interdisciplinary works involving dance or readings, memorial events where the commissioned piece contributes in a meaningful way to the service or concert, works that are requested for very specific combinations of instruments and singers, and requests for new musical settings of classic poetry. There may be crossover, and certainly a good amount of flexibility from both sides, with all the aforementioned scenarios. Conversely, I have frequently been given a completely blank slate, with total freedom to compose whatever I desired.
My very first commission was to compose an arrangement of the African-American spiritual Steal Away. This piece was written very quickly in 1990, especially for a tour of England by the Chancel Choir of First United Methodist Church, Lubbock, Texas. It remains the top-selling published piece from my catalog!
During the coming months, there will be several performances of my compositions, and I will mention six of them here. Some of these will be “first performances” of brand new works, and some will be repeat performances of previously composed works. All of these upcoming performances will represent a continuation of the journey that began – however many years go – with an initial conversation, a commissioning, a commitment from both sides, a compositional process, and through all of this…a fruitful collaboration. I am truly grateful for the opportunities that led to the creation of these works, and equally grateful for the opportunities that keep the music alive, being brought off the page in a variety of ways, for a variety of occasions, as time goes by.
1. October 11 at St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH – Four Latin Motets (2016)
The composition of my Ubi caritas, Tota pulchra es, Tu es Petrus and Tantum ergo took place in July 2016, and represents a departure from the norm in terms of their first performance. I had set myself the challenge of composing all four of these Latin motets – the same texts set by Maurice Duruflé last century – with the simple intention of performing them with my own choirs over the coming season. They were not composed with a specific occasion in mind. I cannot imagine a more fortuitous and serendipitous set of circumstances than that which has resulted in their first performance being scheduled for this October. During a phone conversation with Mike McCarthy, director of the outstanding chamber choir Cathedra from Washington DC, regarding their upcoming concert at St. Paul’s School, Mike casually, and generously, mentioned that there was “no Nicholas White on the program, and we should rectify that!” I was truly honored by this kind gesture, and said I would send him some possibilities. When I got off the phone, I realized that the Four Latin Motets were the perfect pieces to send. I e-mailed Mike the PDFs, and he got back to me later that same day saying, “Yes! These will be the perfect partner to Stanford’s Three Latin Motets in the first half of the program!” Boom! Decision made. Just like that. Truly an exciting, meaningful and heartwarming collaboration.
2. October 23 at St. John’s Cathedral, Albuquerque, NM – The Choir Invisible (2013)
My setting of this gorgeous poem by George Eliot came from a collaborative effort with Maxine Thévenot (Director of Music) and the people of The Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The poem was chosen by the chief commissioner, and several other members of the parish supported the project. The first performance took place in April 2013, and I was able to travel to Albuquerque to conduct it with their superb Cathedral Choir, and Maxine at the organ. In addition, I stayed in the home of John Homko, the chief commissioner, and was able to experience the wonderful city of Albuquerque. I rehearsed twice with the choir, and also had the opportunity to speak about The Choir Invisible at a forum following the service. This was part of an ongoing commissioning project that has now yielded ten pieces of music by ten composers. I feel honored to be included in this list of talented musicians from across the globe. More information about the Cathedral Commissions may be found HERE, and a performance of all ten pieces will take place at the cathedral on October 23.
3. November 6 at St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH – The Andover Canticles (2015)
Last year, my good friend and colleague, Barbara Bruns, marked her 10-year anniversary as Minister of Music of Christ Church, Andover, MA. Completely unbeknownst to Barbara, members of the parish choir, led by tenor Don DeLollis, decided to commission a new setting of the Evensong canticles in Barbara’s honor. This was a particularly joyous collaboration, for several reasons. I have worked with Barbara in many venues over the past 20 years, and this has been a very special collaborative and supportive relationship. I have worked with the Christ Church choir on many occasions, as conductor, organist and composer. I know many of the wonderful congregation members at the church. In addition, Andover is within an hour’s drive from St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH, and I have frequently been able to take the Chapel Choir from the school down to sing with the Christ Church parish choir. On November 6, we will sing this setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for Choral Evensong at the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul, on the school campus.
4. December 2 at Church of the Advent, Boston, MA – Alleluia! Puer Natus Est (2002)
In 2002, I wrote an eight movement sequence for Christmas, based on the plainsong melody Puer natus est nobis (A boy is born for us).
There are four carols – O magnum mysterium, Quem vidistis, Videntes stellam and Hodie Christus natus est – and these are broken up by Alleluia sections, based on the plainsong above. I recorded the sequence with The Tiffany Consort in 2004, and several performances have taken place with a variety of choirs since then. The carols have been excerpted from the larger work, and O magnum mysterium has achieved great popularity, especially in Japan, Korea, Indonesia and The Philippines. As with my new Latin Motets (above) this sequence was not written in response to a commission. However, many opportunities have presented themselves over the years for further performances. The Boston Cecilia performed the sequence in 2006, under the direction of my predecessor, Donald Teeters, and I was able to attend that performance. This December, exactly ten years later, we will reprise that performance with The Boston Cecilia in the very same space – and what a space it is! – the glorious Church of the Advent. Donald was a hugely generous supporter of fledgling talent, both in the realm of singers and instrumentalists, and especially of composers. This is an example of conversation, commitment…and compassion…spread over a long period of fruitful collaboration. I am most grateful for this.
5. December 11 at St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH – The Crib And The Cross (2016)
A particularly meaningful creation from earlier this summer is my new carol for this Christmas – The Crib And The Cross – which is a setting of Benjamin Boulter’s poignant poem. I composed it as a gift for my parents, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in July. It was definitely “Christmas in July” as I presented it to them on the island of Aruba, in the 90 degree heat of the Caribbean, while we were vacationing together! In a sense, this was fulfilling a commission too. Earlier this year, my publisher – Fr. Scott Haynes of Biretta Books in Chicago – asked if I had ever seen the poem before, and urged me to compose a musical setting of it when the mood seemed right. Well, the occasion presented itself, and here it is. I am very grateful to Scott, not only for this suggestion, but for his great support of me as a composer. Biretta Books has published over forty of my compositions, including all of the works mentioned here.
This carol will receive performances by the SPS Chapel Choir, The Boston Cecilia and The Chancel Choir of FUMC Lubbock, TX during the month of December.
6. December 18 at First United Methodist Church, Lubbock, TX – Gloria (2015)
From 2007-2011, I was the Artistic Director of Joyful Noise, Inc. in Northwest Connecticut. The outstanding children’s choir, Chorus Angelicus, and the wonderfully talented and committed adult ensemble, Gaudeamus, give several concerts together each year. 2016 marked their 25th season, and they asked me to compose a piece in celebration of this milestone. Again, we were creative in our approach. Gabriel Löfvall, the current Artistic Director, gave me complete freedom to compose whatever I desired. I had been wanting to write a large-scale setting of the Gloria in Latin, to mirror my 1997 composition Magnificat. I offered to compose the piece for Joyful Noise, and in lieu of a commission fee we agreed that the cost of the orchestra and soloists would be covered by them. As the collaborative side of the project was established, we agreed to give one performance in Connecticut and one at St. Paul’s School, with members of The Boston Cecilia and The Chapel Choir of St. Paul’s School as the host choir.
It was a richly rewarding collaboration, and I am pleased to say that after more than a quarter century of activity as a composer, things are coming full circle. Having written several pieces for the Chancel Choir of First United Methodist Church, Lubbock, Texas…the first of which was Steal Away, mentioned at the top of this story…I will be returning to Lubbock this December to give the third performance of my Gloria. This wonderful choir has commissioned works (including The First Song Of Isaiah, Ave Verum Corpus and I Lift Up My Eyes) given premieres (including Magnificat and Steal Away) and have always supported my work as a composer. My work with Gordon McMillan and Chris Betts, former Ministers of Music at the church, has produced some of the most memorable collaborations over the years, and I am thrilled that the Vesper Concert Series will be presenting my latest major work this Christmas, in the church that was my first port of call in the States, and which I first visited almost 30 years ago!