Last evening, my wife and I attended the Wasatch Chorale concert at the historic Provo Library. The theme of the concert was, “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue.” The Something New part of the concert was a performance of the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st places winners of the Ars Nova Composition Contest that the choir sponsored last fall. My piece, After the Rain, received 1st place in the competition, so they invited me to be there. The choir did a great job with the piece and it seemed to be well-received by both the choir and the audience. I had several people approach me to tell me how much they liked the piece or how they had been affected by it. I was also approached by a local high school director who was very interested in the other piece in the set as well, “Some Rain Must Fall.” Reed Criddle is the current director of the Wasatch Chorale. He is also the director of the choral program at Utah Valley University. Here is a picture of Reed and I after the concert.
Two-piece set: Some Rain Must Fall, After the Rain
Voicing: SATB divisi, unaccompanied
Text by: Longfellow, Johnson
In 2002, I discovered Longfellow’s poem Snowflakes, and was very taken by the poem. I knew I had to set it to music, which I did (see my post on Snowflakes). The experience of writing Snowflakes led me to seek out additional Longfellow poetry for possible lyrics, and it didn’t take long before I ran across his poem, The Rainy Day. Once again, I was taken by the poem’s beauty and expression of one of life’s simple, and at times, difficult truths. Similar to my experience with Snowflakes, I felt compelled to set The Rainy Day to music. I began to work on it a day or two before Thanksgiving, 2003.
I pretty much completed the first version of Some Rain Must Fall by the end of the Thanksgiving holiday. I love it when pieces just flow out like that! My original idea was that it could be a companion to Snowflakes, since both texts use nature to convey a message about life. However, since Some Rain Must Fall turned out to be similar in tempo and style to Snowflakes, it really wasn’t a good match. I spent a few more nights through the rest of the year polishing the piece up so that I could be ready to present it after the first of the year.
I submitted Some Rain Must Fall to Dr. Ronald Staheli and Rosalind Hall at Brigham Young University. They both really liked the piece and Rosalind especially expressed a desire to perform it. However, she felt like I had done a bit too well at capturing the “dark and dreary” nature of the poem and that the piece would work much better in a concert program if it had a companion piece to follow it that would be lighter and more uplifting. She looked for other possibilities over the next couple of years, but came up empty handed. I also began looking for some lyrics, but after hours and hours of searching, I was unable to find a suitable text to match what I was looking to convey. For a time, I gave up and went on to other things.
In the fall of 2007, I was drawn back to Some Rain Must Fall. I really felt like it had something important to say and I knew if I didn’t come up with a suitable companion piece, it may never get performed. So, again I went searching for a fitting poem, but once more, was unsuccessful. I don’t usually write my own words since it doesn’t seem to come very naturally to me. But in this case, it was my only option. So, I decided to take on the task, and over a period of a few days, penned the words to After the Rain. Once I had the words, the music seemed to come right out, as if it had just been sitting around waiting for the words. Within a few days, I was able to show After the Rain to Rosalind Hall and she agreed that it was a perfect match. Soon after, I also decided to rework Some Rain Must Fall to shorten it so that the length was a better match with After the Rain and so the set would not be too long. The BYU Concert Choir debuted the set, which I entitled A Rainy Day, in April of 2008 at the DeJong Concert Hall. Both pieces were very warmly received by the audience.
Here is an excerpt of the performance by the BYU Concert Choir, Rosalind Hall conducting:
The Rainy Day, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.
My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.
Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
After the Rain, by Lane Johnson
Darkness expelled by a Light though the clouds,
Heaven compelled to dissolve lightless shrouds,
Tears dried by Son-Light no longer remain
After the rain.
Storms overhead no more darken the way,
Shadows have ceased to bedim the noon-day,
Then brilliant beams of hope are born and brightness regained
After the rain.
Oh how the cloudburst and tempest refine
As we allow Light to encompass and shine.
Freely the soul sings for respite attained
After the blessed rain.
Recently, my piece, After the Rain, was selected as the 1st Place Winner for the Ars Nova Emerging Composers Competition. This contest is sponsored by the Wasatch Chorale and the newly formed Ars Nova chamber choral ensemble. Dr. Reed Criddle, who is the Director of Choral Activities at Utah Valley University, also directs the Wasatch Chorale and Ars Nova Chamber choral ensemble.
The concert where the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place pieces will be performed is coming up on April 27th, at 7:30 pm in the Provo Library at Academy Square – 550 N. University Avenue, Provo, UT 84601. You can see more info and buy tickets here.
What an incredible weekend it has been for me, with three fairly big happenings for Lane Johnson Music. Here’s a quick summary of each:
1. Friday, April 5th, was the release of the new BYU Men’s Chorus album, Set Apart: Beloved Missionary Hymns. The album is now available, free of charge, at SetApartAlbum.com. Last December, Rosalind Hall, director of the BYU Men’s chorus, asked me to do two new arrangements for the album, and they also included an arrangement that I had done for them previously. So, three of the hymn arrangements on the album were done by me: Sweet is the Peace the Gospel Brings, Onward, Christian Soldiers and Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy. What a thrill and honor it has been to participate in this project! The album turned out wonderfully and should be a great inspiration to all who hear it, especially missionaries. Please take time to download it at SetApartAlbum.com. If you are interested in the sheet music for any of the three hymns that I arranged, please click on the hymn titles in this paragraph, or visit the Lane Johnson Music website.
2. Right after I finished my two new arrangements for the Set Apart Album, Jean Applonie, director of the BYU Women’s Chorus contacted me and asked me to do a new arrangement of “Hey Jude.” I Didn’t have much time to get the arrangement finished before they needed to start rehearsing, but it sounded too fun not to do it. So, I gladly accepted. On Friday night, the same day as the release of the Set Apart Album, the BYU Women’s Chorus had their concert where they performed my arrangement of “Hey Jude” as the finale. What a fun night! The girls had a great concert and did a fantastic job with the arrangement. Great job by the instrumentalists as well. The piece was a big hit with the audience and they really loved singing along with the Na, na, na, na, na, na, na…Hey Jude part at the end. Unfortunately, at least for now, this arrangement is not available due to licensing restrictions. I’ll be submitting this one for publishing or seeking permission to make it available, so perhaps it will be in the future. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post a recording sometime soon as well.
3. To top it off, this afternoon (Saturday) at the General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the combined BYU choirs sang my arrangement of Did You Think to Pray?. I was able to be in attendance in the conference center with two of my boys. It was a great experience for me to hear it performed and to feel how it affected the spirit of the meeting. I want to personally thank the directors and students in all the BYU Choirs who made it such a beautiful experience for all who were able to hear it today, or who will hear it in the future. If you are interested in the sheet music for Did You Think to Pray?, please click on the title in this paragraph or visit the Lane Johnson Music website.
Wow! It may be awhile before I have another weekend like this one.
After the success of Mine Arm is Lengthened Out in 2002, Dr. Staheli encouraged me to write more for him. I was eager to do so and started right away looking for some good words. One day I was looking through one of our bookshelves and found a couple of poetry books that had belonged to Nancy (my sister-in-law) and I started thumbing through them. Soon I found Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Snow-flakes.
I should mention here that in November of 2000, my brother Keith and his wife Nancy, parents of five beautiful children, were both killed in an auto accident just a few minutes into a planned family trip from McKinney, Texas to Austin, Texas to visit Nancy’s sister for the Thanksgiving holiday. As a result of the loss of Keith and Nancy, my wife and I and our family of six children, added five new “cousin-siblings” to our family overnight. Talk about a life changing event! But that is a story for another day.
The background of the death of my brother and his wife is very important to the writing of Snowflakes. Longfellow’s poem seemed to be so fitting for what we were going through at the time and even though some time had past since their death, all of our family was still reeling in many ways from the experience and all the aftermath. Unbeknownst to be at the time, the words to Longfellow’s Snow-flakes offered me a beautiful opportunity to express and work through some of my grief.
I started working on the music for Snowflakes in the spring of 2003. I was able to get most of the first couple sections done in a very short time. Then I stalled for quite a while and was not able to make any progress. I decided to abandon the project and move on to another. However, each time I would sit down to work on something else, I would always be drawn back to Snowflakes. I finally was able to overcome the stumbling block that was bogging me down and I finished the piece in June of 2003. I then presented it to Dr. Staheli and he loved it and programmed it for the following school year. The Brigham Young University Singers debuted the piece on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast on January 25, 2004 (and it was snowing that day!). They included Snowflakes in several other performances that year as well. It was also awesome that my daughter Catherine happened to be a member of the BYU Singers that year. So she got to be part of the whole experience on the performing side as well. Snowflakes was published by Walton Music in 2006 and has sold thousands of copies. It has been performed by many university, high school and community choirs, including a performance at the Western ACDA conference in 2006 and the Colorado All-State Choir Festival in 2010.
Another interesting note: After one of the performances of Mine Arm is Lengthened Out the previous year, Dr. Staheli had mentioned to me that it would probably be a while before I came up with another piece that was so profound. Then after one of the performances of Snowflakes, he said to me something to the effect of “and then you brought me Snowflakes!” Here are some thoughts on the piece that I gave to Dr. Staheli after they began rehearsing it, and which he shared with the choir during one of their rehearsals.
“I became acquainted with this poem just after my family had passed through, hopefully, the most challenging part of a very difficult time in our lives. We were faced with the loss of my brother and his wife to a car accident and the bringing of their children into our family. There was much sorrow and grief, and for some, it seemed that it would never go away and that it was impossible to ever again be truly happy. Three years have passed since this terrible tragedy took place and now that the major period of grief seems to have subsided, we are able to see many remarkable and magnificent things that have taken place as a direct result of the grief we have endured. Where once we felt as if we were brown and bare and forsaken, now we see a magnificent landscape of beautiful relationships, enriched lives, strengthened resolve and commitment, wonderful development of talents and skills that never would have happened otherwise, and a much deeper understanding of life.
Just as clouds must be heavy before revealing the beauty that they hold, we too are required to pass through difficult and faith-testing experiences before the Lord’s beautiful plan can be revealed. This is the poem of the air, that the Lord is able to take something that appears to be desolate and forgotten and turn it into something of extraordinary beauty. This is the secret of despair, that if we hold fast to hope, despair is not forever, it is temporary; and when we are finally able to let go of our heaviness and grief, the Lord will reveal to us and to all around us a marvelous and beautiful landscape that He has prepared for us. As this happens, all are uplifted and strengthened and the kingdom of God is built up and the Lord is glorified. I thank the Lord for the silent and soft and slow decent of snow.”
Here is an excerpt performed by the BYU Singers.
Snow-flakes, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-fold of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.
I want to let everyone know that this coming Saturday, April 6, 2013, at the afternoon session of the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (2:00-4:00 pm MDT), the combined BYU Choirs will sing my arrangement of “Did You Think to Pray?” If you are interested in hearing the performance or the conference, click here for more information. If you are interested in purchasing the sheet music, click here.
One of the reasons I set up this Lane Johnson Music – Latest News site, is so that I can have a place to document my compositions and arrangements and various activities surrounding them. I have been interested in writing music ever since I was about 12 years old, and I dabbled in it here and there over the years. I did a Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition and Theory at BYU and did more writing during that time. In those days, most of the writing I did was for student assignments. But occasionally, I would write or arrange something that I wanted to do. Then for quite a while, I only wrote or arranged occasionally. But ever since about 2002, I have been much more active in writing and arranging, especially choral music. I have been able to have several pieces published and I have had other great experiences with the music that I have written and have really loved being able to use and develop this talent. And I am picking up steam! I want to go back and capture at least something about most of the pieces.
So, over the next few months or so, I am planning to go back in my mind and try my best to catch up on documenting the compositions and arrangements that I have done over the past several years as I have begun to focus more on writing and arranging. I already did the first entry (Mine Arm is Lengthened Out) and posted it a couple of days ago. Watch for Snowflakes next.