Dan Forrest, the composer of Jubilate Deo! – the centerpiece of our upcoming concert, IN ALL VOICES: JUBILATE DEO! – was kind enough to answer questions from Mike Horanski, artistic director of the Vienna Choral Society. The interview (lightly edited for clarity) is a revealing look into Forrest’s creative process, the pressure to live up to expectations, and unexpected humor.
MIKE HORANSKI: Thank you for taking a few moments to talk with me today. I have enjoyed programming a lot of your music for my chorus at school, church choir, and now the Vienna Choral Society. So, it is a pleasure and honor to speak with you today.
I am always interested in asking people when they “knew” they wanted to become a conductor, composer, teacher, and so on. Was your first exposure to choral music singing in a choir, or did you just start composing and then choral music became one of your creative outlets?
DAN FORREST: I was always the accompanist for the choir, growing up, in both church and school. (smiles) Most of my choir experiences were not that great growing up – I just loved piano. But three things changed that:
- A choir festival in tenth grade where I got to sing in a choir with a very skilled conductor, and we really made music – and I was gobsmacked.
- Attending that festival the next couple years, and actually accompanying it, my senior year of high school, when the regular accompanist couldn’t make it.
- Hearing great choirs and recordings of choirs once I got to college. I was blown away by the sound, the tone quality, and the expressive possibilities of the voice that weren’t possible at the piano.
MH: This is a true confession. I love the way you write a melody (and I am not just saying this because we are doing this interview). How do you write a melody and what inspires you to create them?
DF: I wish I had an easy 10-step process, or a set of criteria for judging a great melody, but it’s never reducible to that kind of thing. It’s much easier to describe what makes an existing melody great, then to prescribe what will make the next one great.
I’ve had multiple composition teachers who emphasized the importance of line. Joan Pinkston taught me the importance of writing a great line for everyone in the choir or orchestra. Alice Parker taught me to value lines above all else, and help them go where they really want to go.
James Barnes taught me that “amateurs write chords; professionals write counterpoint”. And even in doctoral theory classes studying music psychology and implication-realization, Leonard Meyer’s writings were so insightful about “where melodies want to go”.
I also work on singing the vocal lines I write – I don’t just play them – so they “feel right” with the sounds of the text, and the meaning of the text, and feel satisfying to the singer.
MH: Last year the Vienna Choral Society performed Requiem for the Living and I didn’t think that I could fall in love with any other piece the same way. Then I listened to Jubilate Deo! and was completely moved again. What inspired you to write this piece?
DF: I’m so glad to hear that. There was so much pressure after the relative success of the Requiem, that my next piece to prove that I could do this again, in a different way, and not just copy myself (writing the same piece over and over, in slightly different garb), or not just be a one-trick pony. “He had one good piece up his sleeve but it’s all downhill from there.” It’s a huge relief, honestly, that Jubilate Deo! is being received well, too.
My inspiration for the piece, at its core, is simply the text, “make a joyful noise to the Lord, all ye lands.” I just tried to paint a large-scale musical picture of “all ye lands.” It was also influenced by the commission from Henry Leck, who has traveled the world as a conductor, and whose office was full of international cultural treasures – it felt like a good fit for him.
By the way, if you liked both of those, I should mention my newest major work, LUX: The Dawn From On High. It’s on iTunes and YouTube. 🙂
Now that I’ve completed three major works, I plan to step away from them for a while and focus on some other things.
MH: Each movement of Jubilate Deo! is set in a different language and style. What led you to make the choices you made with language/style?
DF: Those were really difficult! I spent months making those decisions. For the languages, I wanted to try to represent enough of the world so the work would feel global; but it was very difficult choosing just a handful of languages to try to accomplish that. I had to use Latin, the universal choral language, and English, which is my own language. For the other languages, I tried to represent major language groups and continents, with languages that would still be learnable and singable. (Although some are still definitely a challenge, the pronunciation guides and rehearsal tracks help immensely).
In terms of style, it was very difficult trying to manage how these came across – I wanted to honor these cultures, not offer cliches, or stereotype or appropriate them. Yet, I couldn’t claim to be an authentic composer of any of these styles, so I had to try to listen to loads of that culture’s music until it influenced my own voice enough to come out sounding like “me”, and yet that culture, too. (Perhaps somewhat like Bartok when he traveled the Hungarian countrysides). Hopefully that results in a style that is true to me, yet true in some ways to these other cultures, too, and honors them.
MH: If there was one thing that you would like to tell the choir and our audience about the piece, what would it be?
DF: Thank you for supporting new music! Composers are not all dead (!), and I’m deeply honored when anyone is willing to invest the time, effort, and money to bring my musical imaginations, captured in black ink on white paper, back to life again; and when audiences are willing to come out to take a listen. Thank you!
Tickets for IN ALL VOICES: JUBILATE DEO! are available online at jubilate-deo.eventbrite.com
until 11:30 pm, Friday, March 9, 2018.
They will be available at the door on concert night.
The box office opens at 6:30 pm on Saturday, March 10, 2018.
Tickets are $25 (adults), $20 (Students 15 – 18 and Seniors 60+).
Youth age 14 and younger attend FREE (must be accompanied by a paying ticket holder.)