Dan Forrest, the nationally known and critically acclaimed composer whose choral works include “Requiem for the Living,” is the guest for the next edition of “Maestro Moments,” the free online series of musical conversations sponsored by the Corvallis Repertory Singers.
Meeting with a Maestro
Repertory Singers welcome composer Dan Forrest for Sunday's 'Maestro Moments' conversation
BY MIKE MCINALLY
Steven Zielke, the artistic director of the Repertory Singers and the director of choral studies at Oregon State University, will lead the conversation, scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13. The Zoom session is free, but registration is required. Click on this link to register: https://bit.ly/2L5O5Sr
Attendees also can register through the Repertory Singers’ website, https://repsing.org/
The Repertory Singers, a professional choral ensemble, have performed pieces by Forrest: In 2016, the ensemble performed “Requiem for the Living,” likely his best-known work. Last year’s annual “Candlelight and Carols” concert featured the Repertory Singers performing another major Forrest work, “Jubilate Deo.”
But there’s another reason why Forrest is an apt guest for the December edition of “Maestro Moments:” Forrest often crafts new arrangements of beloved Christmas songs such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.” (In fact, he’s just released an album, A Dan Forrest Christmas, that showcases his carol arrangements.)
Forrest, a New York native who now lives in Greenville, South Carolina, started his musical career with piano studies but found himself drawn to composition – and specifically, writing choral pieces. “I feel that the human voice is the ultimate instrument,” he said in a 2016 interview with the Corvallis Gazette-Times.
Forrest also is proud that he creates music that’s accessible to audiences. “I do write for audiences,” he said in the 2016 interview. “I don’t really make apologies about that.”
To help him warm up for Sunday’s conversation, Forrest took a crack at a handful of emailed questions. Here are some of his responses. (For more of his answers, go to the Repertory Singers’ website, https://repsing.org )
In addition to your major choral works, you're known for your arrangements of Christmas carols. When you approach one of these beloved songs, how do you strike the balance between respecting the original and bringing something new to it?
Someone (I’m not sure who) once observed that every generation needs its own setting of great folk songs. In the way that carols have become a “folk tradition” of their own, I like the thought of trying to write carol settings for my generation. So I look for ways I can honor these great tunes and texts, while “dressing them” in 21st century garb.
Another analogy might be providing a ring setting for a diamond — the diamond’s brilliance and value is intrinsic and can shine in a great variety of uses — but I’m looking for a way to hold up that diamond in a way that glitters in 21st century light and connects with ears of people right here, right now.
So my mindset is really one of honoring these tunes and texts, and “framing” them (there’s another analogy) rather than merely “using” them, or, worse, “ab-using” them.
I do tend to write a lot of original material in my “arrangements” — they really are more like chorale preludes, in a sense, where Bach added entire worlds of his own material to support and “frame” existing Lutheran chorales. I like that model. So I’m definitely bringing a lot to the table, but my hope, and intent, is to honor these priceless carols with settings that merely cast them in a new light but still let them shine out their timeless worth.
In a 2016 interview with the Gazette-Times, you talked about how the inspirations for “Requiem for the Living” included the Book of Job and the awesome images from the Hubble Space Telescope. How do you stay open to new sources of inspiration – and what has struck your fancy lately?
The inspirations you mentioned from my “Requiem for the Living” are unusual for me — I’m not usually visually inspired, to be honest. My biggest sources of inspiration are the texts I set — I want my settings to feel like I’ve just managed to pull back a curtain to reveal music that was in the words all along (not easy!), rather than feeling like I forced a melody onto some text. So I look deep into the words, their meanings and themes, their rhythms and sounds and flow and nuances. I’m also inspired musically just by hearing other people (even in other genres or fields) creating new music — it inspires me to continue looking for new ideas in my own field.
What's a composer's life like now, nearly a year into the coronavirus pandemic? What's on your drawing board now?
As a composer, I did take a couple of months off when the pandemic first hit; then I wrote a piece praying for peace and wholeness (“Shalom”); then I wrote a massive setting of “Lobe Den Herrn” for Duke Chapel, because their long-established deadline was coming up. I’ve spent more time on projects for Beckenhorst Press than for myself during the pandemic, but those have been rewarding as well. I did also write a book of Christmas piano solos that I then recorded, and am working on music videos for, now.
What are the Dan Forrest holiday music essentials — in other words, what are the five or so pieces that you want to be sure you listen to at least once every holiday season?
Well, I (and the Beckenhorst Singers) just released an album of my own Christmas carol settings, A Dan Forrest Christmas – it’s on Spotify, Apple Music, and all the other usual places. So maybe I can just point to that? It hit No. 3 on the iTunes classical charts, last week!
I also have the recording of my piano solo carol settings coming out any day now, called Christmas Illuminations. It’ll be in all those places as well.
WHAT: “Maestro Moments,” a monthly series of online conversations with Dr. Steven Zielke, artistic director of the Corvallis Repertory Singers, and guests.
WHEN: 3 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month through February. The Dec. 13 session features composer, pianist and music educator Dan Forrest.
WHERE: The sessions are held online via Zoom.
COST: The event is free and open to the public, although registration is required and slots in the Zoom session are limited. To register for the Dec. 13 session, go to this website: https://bit.ly/2L5O5Sr
UP NEXT: The Jan. 10 “Maestro Moments” session features Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, conductor of the Viking Chorus and the Chapel Choir at St. Olaf College and the former guest artistic director of one of North America's largest LGBTQ+ choirs, Minnesota's One Voice Mixed Chorus.