Reflections on the National Conference Of Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers (CFAMC), October 6-8, 2016, Mississippi College, Clinton, Mississippi, Part V

Friday, October 7, 2016, late afternoon Keyboard Concert

The Thanksgiving season is a good time to return to our voyage through the National Conference Of Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers (CFAMC) that took place last October at Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi. As a pianist and sometimes organist I am particularly thankful for this concert that presented three solo piano works and two pieces for organ.

It is rare for Warren Gooch to miss the CFAMC gatherings in person and, indeed, all our loss. But at least we were treated to a humorous suite of vignettes based on popular metaphors. Like Samuel Barber, Gooch treats us to a theme based on all twelve tones, but then refuses to lock himself into serialism. Because the other movements are somehow based on this theme, there is a sense of variations that unites this suite of metaphors such as “getting up on the wrong side of the bed,” and “turning over a new leaf.” We heard these and the Prologue and would have been delighted with the entire suite if that were possible. Mary Catherine McKibben effectively performed these excerpts.

Betty Wishart’s Night Visions Suite, so capably performed by Rachel Runnels, evokes a newer Impressionistic language rife with clusters and enhanced by strumming the piano strings directly in several places. The four-movement suite, with unnamed movements, is accompanied by particularly fetching photographic images by Alexandria E. P. Dahl, that work well in guiding the listener’s imagination, although Dahl’s name appears a little too prominently on several of the images. This work traverses a continuum from near-tonality to pure sonorities and clusters that more directly reflect the photographs on the screen.

Dreams Before You Awake by William Vollinger is just that: a stream-of-consciousness reaction to, as Vollinger puts it, “a good dream.” He moves deftly between tonal and bi-tonal languages in capturing the essence of this dream right before the alarm goes off in one of his few works without words. I also like the double meaning, where Vollinger evokes the spiritual dimension in quoting Ephesians 5:14, which reads: “Awake you that sleep and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Morgan Vann presented this piano solo and captured the electricity of that waking moment quite well.

The 3:00 concert concluded with two organ works presented by their composers: the Toccata Exultate by Neil Stipp and the Chorale by Joshua Nichols. Both works evoked the late 19th French organ school of composition and performance, although the Stipp work used the asymmetrical meters of Bartok and Stravinsky also quite delightfully. Stipp had to prepare the virtuoso work himself on short notice and, though it was slowly played, the work showed itself off as worthy of a grand postlude, and it is definitely a piece I would like to learn myself to perform. The Chorale takes us on a whirlwind tour of many, if not most, of the major and minor keys, and is quite reminiscent of Louis Vierne.

How fortunate that we had the opportunity to hear these in the sanctuary of Clinton’s First Baptist Church, only a few doors down from the Music Building on campus. If the Provine Chapel and First Baptist Church are any indication, Clinton has a wealth of excellent organs and beautiful sanctuaries – indeed, a couple of more blessings for which we give thanks!