AHS Bel Canto Chorale Men and Premiere

In May of 2007, Susan Hinrichs, the Director of Choirs at Amarillo High School called me about writing a piece for Susan Hinrichsher Bel Canto Chorale Men. Each year Susan would apply to Texas Music Educator's Association (TMEA) to have her choirs accepted as honor choirs for the next convention. Her persistance paid off because for the 2008 Convention, her men's group was invited. This is a very big deal in Texas. Musicians and music educators from all over the huge state of Texas travel to San Antonio, TX for a four day convention. The High School All-State groups perform and many college-age and younger-aged ensembles perform. The exhibition hall is huge with vendors from all over.

Susan Hinrichs and I discussed what kind of piece she would like to have written. She wanted a piece to honor those who made sacrifices in the military for our freedoms. Specifically, this piece was to honor S/Sgt Andrew Caine Perkins, who was a graduate of Amarillo High School in 1998. He was killed in action on March 5, 2007 in Samarra, Iraq. The commissioned work was to honor not only those in the military but also their families because both make huge sacrifices in times like these.

The ensemble would be preparing a 25 minute program and Susan had some other pieces in mind for the program. We both looked through a lot of poetry and narrowed it down to a poem called "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep". This was a poem written by Baltimore homemaker, Mary Frye, to ease the pain of her friend, Margaret, who's mother died in Germany during Hitler's time. It was too dangerous to go to Germany and the woman continually weeped that she could not even visit her dead mother's grave. Mary Frye's poem, which was her first attempt to poetry, is beautifully written with a healing message that I thought was as timely in the 21st Century as it was back in 1932.

Susan also wanted a piece that was somewhat challenging for her group. Throughout the summer of 2007, I would email PDFs of the music sections I had written and Susan would give me feedback as to whether the vocal writing was challenging enough. I recall one funny discussion we had towards the end of completion. Susan commented that the introduction I had was too "girly" so I laughed and promptly got to work on a more "manly" introduction. It's nice to work on a piece with someone who will be honest with you about what they hear.

Amarillo High School Bel Canto Chorale Men
Performing at First Baptist Church of Amarillo

AHS Bel Canto Chorale Men

Bel Canto began working on my piece and the other program pieces in the Fall to prepare for the February concert at TMEA. My piece was challenging enough for them but they loved it and they worked very hard to prepare it well. As I visited various rehearsals through the months, I could hear it coming together. The expressions on the singers faces told me they understood what the piece was about and they took it with all seriousness.

Bel Canto was also preparing a piece called "Praise Him" by Michael Cox. When Steve Weber listened to the piece he had a great idea to add brass parts with the piano accompaniment so Susan had me write brass quartet parts and it really helped make the piece a great opening number. The brass quartet was for one trumpet, two horns, and a trombone. Roger Edwards on trumpet, Becky Casso and David Lanier on horns, and Scott Meyer on trombone did a great job on the accompaniment along with Janice Davis on the piano. I also did a little tweaking on the Bach "Hallelujah, Amen" string quartet parts (played by AHS violinists Lynsi Porterfield, Erin Weber, violist Emily Eldride, and cellist Noah Littlejohn) to help make the accompaniment a little lighter.

In preparation for the TMEA event, Susan Hinrichs invited various clinicians to work with her group. Steve Weber from Amarillo College gave so much of his time and expertise over those months. Steve has a beautiful voice himself but he also has a gift for making vocal groups sound better than they ever knew they could sound. The well-known choral clinician and past TMEA president, Robert Stovall also worked with the group. Robert did a beautiful job getting them very excited about the music. I appreciated the respect he gave to my piece when he rehearsed. He emphasized every little nuance and brought the music and words to life.

The big day, February 15, 2008 arrived. The performance was in one of the huge ballrooms of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The ballroom can hold 3,000 people. The performance was recorded and video taped by Mark Custom Recording Service. Bel Canto was so well prepared, cool, calm, and collected, or so it seemed to me that day. They did a beautiful job in the entire program. Please listen to their performance at TMEA 2008: 

Here are a few pictures to enjoy from TMEA:

TMEA Rehearsal in the Ballroom that seats 3,000

TMEA Rehearsal from the back of the ballroom

TMEA Rehearsal with Piano Accompanist, Janice Davis

TMEA Rheearsal with Janice David, piano
TMEA Rehearsal with Brass Quartet


TMEA Rehearsal with Brass Quartet

TMEA Rehearsal with String Quartet

TMEA Rehearsal with String Quartet

Soloist Ryan Sustaita at the TMEA Rehearsal "Les Miserables"

TMEA Rehearsal

Soloists Chris Thompson & Peter Hargrave
at the TMEA Rehearsal "Les Miserables"

TMEA Rehearsal


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Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep TMEA.mp35.47 MB