Lipscomb choral director presents historical research at Library of Congress

By Janel Shoun-Smith on 7/23/2012

  
  

Not many people get the chance to present their research at the nation’s preeminent archive, the Library of Congress. But that is the opportunity Lipscomb’s director of choruses got this summer when he attended the American Choral Director’s Association (ACDA) National Symposium on American Choral Music.

The Library of Congress is working in cooperation with the ACDA to make more historic choral music available to scholars, thus advancing national efforts to define the “American style” of choral music through the centuries.

Gary Wilson, Lipscomb’s director of choruses, completed his doctoral dissertation on Edward MacDowell, one of the most significant American composers of the 19th century, in 2004 while teaching at York College in Nebraska. Soon after, several of MacDowell’s works were chosen to be posted on a website launched as part of the joint project by the ACDA and Library of Congress.

MacDowell music old
MacDowell's composition as printed during his lifetime.
Macdowell music modern
MacDowell's compositions in Wilson's new edition, printed a few year's ago.

Some years ago, the two organizations partnered to create a website providing electronic access to 75 works of choral music available through the Library of Congress. The service was designed to make overlooked historic choral works more readily available for potential performance today. It also happened to fall right in line with Wilson’s previous research on MacDowell, which earned him a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In June, the two organizations held a conference, furthering the goals of the choral music association and sharing the scholarly progress made with other interested researchers. Wilson was invited to present his research, which focused on MacDowell’s lesser known choral compositions for women and mixed choirs.

The ACDA/Library of Congress website includes the music in its original printed version. But Wilson created new editions of several of MacDowell’s works (“The Brooks,” “Slumber Songs” and “Under Flowering Branches,” among others), using modern layout, format and notations, making them more attractive for today’s choral directors to use in performances.

“What a choral director expects to see on the page today is a little different from what was printed back in the 1900s,” Wilson said. His dissertation included images of both the original music sheets and his own new editions.

Most of the choral works available through the website were written from 1850 to 1900. MacDowell, the first music department head at Columbia University, was born in 1860 and is famous for his piano works as well as his choral compositions. His sweet, romantic choral works are very much like the German romantic composers such as Brahms and Mendelssohn, Wilson said.

At the conference, groups performed many of the works available online, and attendees heard talks by modern American choral composers. In addition, Wilson and other attendees were able to visit the Library of Congress archive to see handwritten manuscripts of some of the great monuments of choral music:  a J.S. Bach cantata from the 17th century; a Brahms’ Requiem from the 1860s (performed by Lipscomb students in April); and three early hymn books by American composer William Billings. 

“I was speechless just looking at these invaluable pieces of music history that I've studied and read about most of my adult life,” said Wilson.

MacDowell photo
Edward MacDowell and his wife Marion MacDowell, in an archive photo on The McDowell Colony website.