By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – November 16, 2015) — On a recent Theology Thursday radio broadcast (http://star88.fm/media_theologythursday.asp), my co-hosts and I discussed the role of art within the church. It was a lively discussion. During the broadcast, we highlighted a new book by Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know.
This got us thinking about masterpieces in various genres. After the program, our conversation continued. One person asked me to name my top ten recommended American art composers (as opposed to pop or folk music) that Christians should know.
I had to stop and think.
As with any “Top 10” list, there’s always the problem of leaving off great compositions and composers. Additionally, picking the ‘best’ of anything can largely be a subjective endeavor. Before I give a list, please note that the compositions that I name are not necessarily “Christian” in the sense that they have Biblical themes (though a couple do). Nor were the compositions written by Christian composers (though some were). But using the standard of common grace (grace given to all), I picked music and composers that highlight the brilliance of American music, listing them in order of the date the compositions were written.
Here they are:
The Unanswered Question, Charles Ives (1874-1954). Written in 1909. Recommended CD: New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, conducting.
Adagio for Strings, Samuel Barber (1910-1981). Written in 1936. Recommended CD: Academy of St. Martin’s in the Field, Sir Neville Mariner, conducting.
Fanfare for the Common Man, Aaron Copeland (1900-1990). Written in 1942. CD: Copland Conducts Copland.
In a Landscape, John Cage (1912-1992). Composed in 1948. Recommended CD: In A Landscape performed by Stephen Drury.
Echoes of Time and the River, George Crumb (b. 1929). Composed in 1965. Won the Pulitzer in music in 1968. Recommended CD: The Complete George Crumb.
A Maze (With Grace), Thomas Albert (b. 1948). Composed in 1975. Recommended CD: Relache, Mode Records.
Shaker Loops, John Adams (b. 1947). Composed in 1978. Recommended CD: Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor.
Glassworks, Philip Glass (b. 1937). Glassworks. Composed in 1981. Recommended CD: Glassworks, 1982.
Apocalypse V, Warner Hutchison (b. 1930). Written in 1989. Recommended CD: Apocalypse, Dana Brass Quintet, Dana Label.
Violin Sonata No. 2, George Tsonktis (b. 1951). Released in 2003 and nominated for a Grammy.
So there you have it. Love it or hate it; it’s the list of composers I think every Christian should be aware. Each composer brings the freedom of individuality in an expressive, musical language, highlighting the distinctive characteristics unique to America: blending syncopation, experimentation, phrasing, and modernist ideals into a melting pot of influences.
As you’ll see, I left off amazing composers such as Morton Feldman, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Steve Reich, and the like. Why? I can only pick ten composers. Also left out are recent stalwarts such as Kevin Puts, Julia Wolfe, Caroline Shaw, Jennifer Higdon, Mark O’Connor, Edgar Myer, and others. In a list of 20, they’d definitely make the cut.
For now, I’ll stick to the ten listed, hoping that Christians will experiment with the music, listening and learning with care and consideration. And whether you like the pieces or not, all are uniquely American, brilliantly wrought and conceived, a testament to America’s musical voice in the world.
Photo captions: 1) Composer, Charles Ives. 2) Composer, Warner Hutchison. 3) Logo for Theology Thursday radio show. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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