Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 21 August 2012 13:24
For nearly three decades, Bradley Vogel has drawn upon the music of other composers to showcase the talents of his choral groups.
Now, with the recent release of his first original piece, the Tabor College professor of choral music has something unique to offer his fellow directors.
The title, “Cantate Domino, Canticum Novum,” may not roll off the tongue of the average music fan, but Vogel is hoping the Latin setting of Psalm 96 should appeal to directors, choral groups and audiences through its English title, “Sing to the Lord a New Song.”
“It’s exciting,” Vogel said about Imagine Music Publishings’ decision to produce the piece.
“Cantate Domino, Canticum Novum” made its public debut as a published piece earlier this month at a reading session sponsored by Senseney Music, a retail music store in Wichita that caters to music educators.
Some 60 educators participated in this event in which they sifted through a stack of newly published songs for the sake of evaluation and possible use. During the session for high school and college choirs, the group sang through 40 songs in addition to Vogel’s.
Not only did Vogel participate in the sight-reading session where his song debuted, he was in the somewhat awkward position of leading it.
“I told them (when the song came up), ‘Now I’m going to take out my heart and toss it on the floor to be stomped on,” he said with a laugh.
“I always feel that way when the choir sings something I’m doing. I’ve come to say, ‘I hope you like this. If you don’t, just sing it well and don’t tell me.’”
Although this is the first published work he has composed in its entirety, Vogel frequently has written new arrangements for previously published songs.
“Doing something entirely new is much more satisfying because it all comes out of you,” Vogel said. “The original stuff is very satisfying but obviously harder because you have to come up with the whole thing—and hope it’s not bad.”
Vogel, who graduated from Tabor with a degree in music in 1985, credits the encouragement of his professor, the late Jonah Kliewer, for his creative accomplishments in music.
“I took an arranging class with Jonah in college,” Vogel said. “I still have the file notebook in which he returned my assignments to me, and he had written in it: ‘You are good at this; write without ceasing.’
“That was always encouraging to me, but I never really considered anything beyond (arranging).”
But during his tenure as choral director at Haven High School from 1992-97, Vogel composed his first song for public performance.
“My select ensemble did a Christmas banquet every year, so I wrote a piece for that every year,” he said. “Most were arrangements, but one I did was completely new.
“The first piece I had written that was completely new was a called a macaronic text—it was both English and Latin, which was a typical thing in the medieval and renaissance era to mix languages.
“I wrote the thing driving home from the school in Haven to my house in Inman,” he added. “It was a Christmas poem, so I made it up while I was driving home. And then when I got busy, I put the whole thing together.”
Free to write
Vogel, in his 16th year on the Tabor music faculty, said he did most of the work on “Cantate Domino, Canticum Novum” in fall 2011 for the Wichita All-City High School Honor Choir, and premiered it with them in February 2012.
In summer 2010, Vogel had begun began composing seriously while receiving a sabbatical stipend from the college.
“Instead of taking a sabbatical and missing class assignments, I applied for a stipend for the money that it would take to replace me for a semester if I took a break and brought in other people to teach my classes and other things.
“So rather than painting houses like I had been doing (during summer breaks), I did some of the things I would do if it was part of a stipend.”
That summer, Vogel wrote a “Psalm 150” as well as the music for a Christina Rossetti poem called “Paradise in a Dream.” He also produced an arrangement of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” “Psalm 150” is slated for a later release, but Vogel incorporated it into the repertoire for his choir tour the following school year.
Vogel said text always comes first when he composes new music. He chose Psalm 96 for his published piece, but used the Latin translation.
“If you’re a choral person, you’re familiar with it,” he said of the resource that offers each of the Psalms in a variety of languages.
“Then the idea is, how do you reflect the text in the music?”
Vogel described the music for “Cantate Domino, Canticum Novum” as both lively and jubilant because it speaks of the majesty of God, and yet it hints at mystery at the same time.
“Artists do that with color and shading, we do it with sound,” Vogel said.
“After that, it’s a matter of form and structure—the beginning and the end are similar, so you feel like you’ve had a complete journey,” he added.
Vogel begins the composition process by writing “chicken scratches” in pencil as he works through his ideas at the piano.
“Because I’m a pianist, I can explore with my hands and play around with harmonies and things,” he said.
Once he has a handwritten draft, Vogel enters the words and music into a computer program called Finale.
“That’s how you get the whole thing laid out,” he said. “It’s pretty time consuming, but it’s at least clean and clear and easier to read.”
After final tweaks, Vogel sends the final file to the publisher, who transfers it directly into print for distribution.
“If I find a mistake (in the final product), it’s mine,” he said with a smile.
Composers do get a percentage of every copy of music sold, but the biggest reward Vogel hopes for is simply that directors will choose “Cantate Domino, Canticum Novum” for their choirs.
That appears likely. Directors participating in the Senseney reading session gave the song a warm reception.
“They don’t talk about specific songs, but they did applaud when they were done (singing it)—so that was nice of them,” he said.
“One person said, ‘It’s singable, but it’s not real easy,” Vogel said, then added with a smile: “I took that as a complement.”
To listen to “Cantate Domino, Canticum Novum” as recorded by the Tabor College Choir, go to imaginemusicpublishing.com, then click on the title of the song among the new releases posted on the home page.