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Friday, January 6, 2012

Discovering a Treasure: Composer, Warner Hutchison

By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- Most kids love treasure maps. At least I did. I studied fictional maps, looking for routes to where X marks the spot, the place where untold adventures await and treasures abound.

Composer, Warner Hutchison

Not much has changed for me as an adult: I still seek out treasures. But unlike the fictional maps of my childhood, I look for cultural treasures in the form of people.

I’ve recently discovered one of those treasures: composer Warner Hutchison, Ph.D.

How I met him is indeed a story worth telling.

During a December 2011 church service at Calvary of Albuquerque in New Mexico, a lady fainted after the service. She was carted off to a side room; I was there to provide a presence to the paramedics. As it turned out, the lady was from a local retirement community. She was just fine.

While I was waiting for the paramedics to complete the health checks on her, a few of the other residents were standing around watching the events transpire. To make good use of the time, the director of the group introduced me to a few of the folks.

The first person introduced to me was a musician.

“Brian, I’d like you to meet Warner. He’s a musician just like you,” the man said.

“Nice to meet you,” I replied. “What instrument do you play?”

“Well,” Warner began, “I used to play French horn, but mostly I compose now.”

A light went on in my head. “Composition?” I asked.

“Yes. I was department chair at New Mexico State University and resident composer,” came the answer, somewhat humbly.

“Is your music available online?” I followed.

“Oh, yes,” he said with a smile.

Therein lay the map: the quest to discover the music of Warner Hutchison.

I quickly headed off to a computer to look for the music—an uncharted area for me. Lo and behold, there were dozens of pieces, several CDs, and multiple sites discussing his work.

I had discovered a treasure!

I ordered some of the CDs, in particular his Apocalypse I and Apocalypse V, both based on text found in the book of Revelation. After listening to them, I was smitten.

I made a point to visit Warner at the retirement community.

I can only say that our conversation was the beginning of a cultural and musical adventure that I hope will continue.

Warner told me of his early musical and religious influences, his love for his family, his journey into composition, and his 29 years spent at New Mexico State University; first as French horn instructor, then as Department Chair.

Composer, Roy Harris

Along the way, he discussed his mentor, composer Roy Harris. Harris is linked to the larger Lost Generation of composers: Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. Harris’ Symphony No. 3 (1939) is considered one of the great American musical works.

Warner (b. 1930) began his musical journey at age 17 as horn player and composer in his hometown of Denver, Colorado. After a brief stint as church musician (even filling in the pulpit a couple of times), Hutchison went on staff at Houghton College in New York. It was during his years at Houghton that he met and studied with Roy Harris, using the summer months as musician at a Free Methodist church to help pay for his time with Harris.

He was hired at New Mexico State University as the French horn teacher in 1967, but later was promoted to Department Chair. He remained at NMSU for the remainder of his career, where he was the composer-in-residence.

As a strong Christian, Warner has written over 270 works since 1949, many of which adhere to Christian themes. His Mass (written in 1992; five movements) is for chorus, soloist, and wind ensemble. His Apocalypse I (1979) is for brass quintet and percussion. Apocalypse V (1989) is for brass quintet, percussion, and electric keyboard.

Concerning the Apocalypse works, Warner stated, “This work is based on prophetic passages from the books of Daniel and Revelation, concerning the events leading up to the final conflict on earth and in heaven.

“It is a very demanding piece, requiring top-notch musicians. Not all the music is beautiful; some is ugly, portraying violent, disturbing emotions.

“I use tonal harmonic and melodic materials that fuse atonality and serial content.”

When asked about the Mass, Hutchison stated that, “The work is roughly 34 minutes long, and uses the Latin text of the Ordinary Mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Angus Dei. Dr. Jerry Ann Alt commissioned my setting of the Mass.”

CD featuring Warner Hutchison's work, From Noon to Starry Night

Hutchison’s music has been performed at the Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, and Carnegie Hall. In addition, his works have been performed beyond the US—in Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, and Russia.

The routes on his musical map are quite impressive, indeed.

If there is one thing I have learned in my brief quest to understand the music—and man—that is Warner Hutchison, it is that his treasure chest if full of gems, precious metals, and something much more important: the Spirit of God.

Warner is a link to the heyday of great American composers, he is a brilliant composer in his own right, and he is a man not resting on his laurels. He is still composing, thinking, and creating music for God’s glory and humanity’s benefit.

With Hutchison, I’m finding my way to the X on his musical atlas—and I hope to continue to enjoy the treasures of Dr. Hutchison’s music for years to come.

Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, minister, and family man. You may contact him at

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