In over a decade of composing, never have I been asked to write a large scale work for the wind band repertoire. When I was approached by the Alabama Winds about writing such a piece in honor of their founder and conductor (and my former teacher) Randall Coleman, it felt like the perfect opportunity to stretch my creativity in a project that would celebrate the career of someone who means so much to so many people.
In preparing to write a large-scale work, I found Professor Coleman’s interest in John Dryden’s poem, “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day”, to be a great starting point. As a vocalist in college, Professor Coleman recounts singing Norman Dello Joio’s To St. Cecilia (adapted from the text by Dryden) as one of the most profound musical experiences of his life. Personally, I found the text to be rich with musical opportunities that would lend itself to two contrasting movements. Unlike the original text and the many musical representations that focus on St. Cecilia, I wanted my work to focus on the musical and celestial forces being abstractly represented through music.
The title of the first movement, “From Harmony, from heav’nly harmony...”, comes directly from the first line of Dryden’s poem. The first few notes musically depict the beginning of the “universal framework” described in the text through delicate textures and orchestrations that develop as the movement progresses. One interesting observation I found in Dryden’s poem is the juxtaposition between the sacred ideas of creation and the secular ideas of “jarring atoms” that find their harmony with other elements within the young universe. The second stanza of the poem highlights the capacity for the musical elements to inspire passion which is represented at the climax of the first movement.
The second movement, “Cries, hark the foe comes”, picks up the poem from the third stanza which highlights the spectrum of emotions that can be summoned by various instruments. The beginning of the movement highlights the “trumpet’s loud clangor” along with drums that inspire war and conflict. The movement transitions to a section of mourning through the sound of a “warbling” flute. The ending of the movement combines the final stanzas along with the Grand Chorus to recapitulate earlier material and create a celebratory and impactful finale.
The Sacred Spheres was commissioned by the friends, family, and former students of Professor Randall O. Coleman in dedication to his 30+ year career in music education. I personally dedicate this work to him and am thankful for his impact on me as a composer, conductor, and educator.