Words and Music, Composer and Conductor 

I have been fortunate in that my various music activities - the training and the experience - came about through fortunate happenstance - I was at the right place at the right time.  Because of my fine experiences in school, I always wanted to be a high school music teacher.  But the luck of writing two musicals at Columbia showed me how much I enjoyed composing; and the experience of conducting those two musicals - and then being asked to serve as assistant to Oats with the Columbia Glee Club - exposed me to the joys of conducting music theatre and choral groups.  And summers at Green Mansions Theatre in the Adirondacks working with the great theatre director Richard Edelman gave me experience in accompanying singers, and then music directing and producing revues, solo acts, and musicals. 

I owe my success as a musician to a series of inspiring teachers - choral directors Sibyl Keesee (1922-2015) in WV, Alice Sturdy at Narbonne High School and Patricia Pratt at Palos Verdes High School in CA; and piano teachers: Russell Falt, Paul Stoye, and Robert Goldsand (1911-1991).  And my career as a conductor was primed by Bailey “Oats” Harvey at Columbia and Hugo Fiorato, conductor of the New York City Ballet. My career as a composer was fostered by Vladimir Ussachevsky, Jack Beeson and Otto Luening at Columbia. I must also credit soprano Shirlee Emmons (1923-2010) who taught me so much about the human voice and singing and being a complete musician.

Most composers have also been also conductors.  The two activities go hand-in-hand and are mutually influential.  In these decades, I have been fortunate that nearly everything I composed or arranged I knew would be performed, most often by me. So I tried to avoid the problems many choral works present.  Fix it before you are standing in front of the choir.  
In my youth as a choral singer, my directors were fairly conservative in their choice of repertory, always seeking a balance between “serious” works and “lighter” fare, meaning standard classical choral works and arrangements of popular songs and show tunes.  Those fine conductors were trying to find a balance to give their singers as well as their audiences an engaging experience with the classical canon as well as folksongs, spirituals and the popular songs of the day.
“Oats” Harvey, the Director of the Columbia Glee Club was a master programmer.  He opened with a rousing chorus to get the program off to a dynamite start.  The serious works followed next with at least one major concert work for men’s voices.  The second half of the program featured folksongs and generally concluded with arrangements of spirituals.  I continued this program philosophy in my own programming.

To fill out these programs, I would often arrange my favorite folksongs or contemporary works if arrangements - that is, good arrangements - were not available.  So over my nearly five decades of conducting I came to arrange a great many pieces for men’s, women’s and mixed voices.  

All of these experiences came together when Richard Edelman, who had hired me for Green Mansions, recommended me for a position at Penn State teaching composition and conducting, directing the Penn State Glee Club, and, perhaps most importantly, music directing the summer productions at Penn State.  I was hired - and kept composing - but only when there was a project on the horizon - a setting of Mark Twain’s The War Prayer - with choreographer Pat Heigel - and more dance works with Pat.  But the big break came when Doug Cook, head of the Theatre Department, asked me to write the major music theatre piece celebrating the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations - The Pennsylvania Bicentennial Wagon Train Show. (See the Wagon Train Show page.)  This was followed some two decades later by another anniversary and my major sabbatical project, 1996's Mountain Laurels: A Choral Symphony celebrating the Centenary of State College, PA. 

Throughout my musical life, I have composed, performed, and conducted music for voices.  Therefore the message and value of the literary texts with which I work is of primary importance to me.  I believe strongly that music should have some effect on the listener and should change their lives, even if only in some small way.  I am proud of the texts which I have set, most especially the many opera, song cycle and cantata texts by Jason Charnesky. These latter works include Santa Rosalia, a cantata based on the painting by Fernando Botero; One Life: the Rachel Carson Project, a cantata about the life and works of the founder of the environmental movement in the US; and the full-length opera, YORK: The Voice of Freedom, about the life of the only African-American on the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806. Jason’s texts always contain a message of humanity and compassion and I am proud to work with him.

One thing marks all of my works: they were made by an active conductor who would be faced with making music of the work at hand and, furthermore, presenting the work to my choir in a fashion that would engage them in the process of rehearsing the piece and performing it - with energy, precision and commitment. This has led me to two simple rules that I follow when arranging music.  
My first rule of arranging: pick a tune that you, the arranger and conductor, really like and that is suitable for a choral arrangement.  You are far more likely to produce a work that is singable and that you will enjoy conducting. After all, you as the conductor are ultimately responsible for making the piece work.

My second rule is borrowed from that great arranger Alice Parker: Be true to the material - the tune, the melody.  All of the arrangements on this website are essentially conservative, sometimes a bit adventurous, but never radical or experimental. I have tried to make them easy to learn and fun to sing - while perhaps discovering something fresh and new about the melody and the harmonization. 

Regarding composing: I once complained to good friend and mentor Everett Waldo that I felt I had wasted a great deal of time conducting frivolous musicals during the summers at Penn State when I could have been composing operas, serious works.  But my wise friend pointed out that those years were important to my knowledge and expertise as a composer of stage works.  I was learning what worked and what did not work on stage - and lots of other things about timing, flow, energy and organization of the song, the scene, and the act.  Those musicals were not a waste of time - they were crucial to my development. And they were great fun! 
Concluding Words and Music:
The entire span of my career as a composer has been spent creating dramatic musical forms that delight contemporary audiences with the immediacy of the lyrical, and that reward repeated listening with the depth of their compositional craftsmanship.