John W. Peterson

In today’s post I’m responding to and expanding on my daughter’s Advent Calendar post about Christmas music. She mentioned one of our family’s humorous memories of her misunderstanding of words or phrases – this incident was about the song, “Sleep, Holy Child,” which she requested as ” ‘Poly Child.” Kay was three at the time so her memory is one of an oft-repeated story rather than a remembrance of the song.

At Christmas of 1963, we were living in Shawnee, Oklahoma where Wayne was attending OBU after sensing and responding to a call to preach. We had joined the First Baptist Church of Shawnee and that Christmas the choir was presenting John W. Peterson’s excellent Christmas cantata, Night of Miracles; I was the soprano soloist for the earlier-mentioned lullaby, which is a really lovely song. After a rehearsal in the auditorium, Kay walked over and asked, sing ‘Poly child, mommy, sing ‘Poly child.”

John W. Peterson was a prolific composer of sacred music having written over 1,000 Christian songs and 35 cantatas and musicals and, according to his website, his music has sold over 10,000,000 copies worldwide. Some of my most enjoyable Christmas and Easter cantatas as well as songs were written by him and over the years I sang many of them as solos. As evidence of the enduring quality of his music, a search of YouTube yielded a clip of “Sleep, Holy Child” sung by Marilyn Cotton and which includes the lyrics.

Around 1976, when we were living in Durham, North Carolina, the ministers of music got together to plan a program they called “1000 Voices Singing for Christ.” They invited John W. Peterson to direct the orchestra and choir and a well-known pianist and composer, Don Wyrtzen, to play the piano. There was to be one soloist for the event to be selected by audition. My choir director, George Archer, asked me to audition, so I did.At that time I was studying voice with Kathryn Posner (an excellent teacher) and about this same period of time had the opportunity to sing a small role in Puccini’s Sister Angelica with the newly founded North Carolina Lyric Opera.

The auditions for the 1,000 Voices Singing for Christ event were conducted by Mr. Peterson and Mr. Wyrtzen themselves. I don’t remember where the auditions were held but it was in a church rehearsal room somewhere in Durham; I arrived fairly late in the day after the guest musicians had apparently listened to a long stream of church soloists. Mr. Peterson was sitting in a choir chair and Mr. Wyrtzen was sitting at the keyboard and neither of them looked up when I walked in. I found a picture of Mr. Wyrtzen sitting at the keyboard at an angle to it as he was that day, except that day he had no smile but rather looked like a dictionary definition of bored, as though he could wait no longer for this day to be over.

I also don’t recall what they wanted to hear as part of the audition, but Mr. Wyrtzen began the accompaniment, with no acknowledgment of my presence; however, when I began to sing Mr. Wyrtzen snapped his head up to look at me so quickly he almost fell off the piano bench. Though Mr. Peterson was not so precariously sitting on his chair as to potentially fall off, he too came alert and both of them began to listen with enthusiasm. After I finished singing, they talked with me on a personal level and Mr. Wrytzen laughed with me over his response when he told me what a pleasant surprise it had been to finally hear someone sing beautifully.

I was selected as the soloist for the occasion, which was held at Duke University stadium. The choir and orchestra filled one end of the stands and a huge audience filled in the other sides of the stadium for a well-attended and well-received afternoon of singing praises. I don’t remember what solo was a part of that event; I just know it was a special treat for me to meet and work with both of these excellent church musicians, but particularly John Peterson since I had loved and sung so many of his beautiful songs for so many years.

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Blog Caroling

After listening to my daughter’s selections of favorite Christmas carols as her responses to footnoteMaven’s tradition of Blog Caroling, I obviously had to participate and, like my daughter, no way could I just pick one. I have always loved choral music as well as solo music with incredibly beautiful melodic lines. One of my early favorites was always O Holy Night because of its beautiful melody. When I decided to use a Christmas song in a novel I am writing with a setting of 1899, I was pleased and surprised to find that it had been written by Adolphe Adam in 1847 so was a perfect choice.Though I’m a soprano and the range and vocal line are well fitted for my voice, I’ve chosen the version done by Il Divo just because I like them.

The next carol to become a favorite is also one on my daughter’s Blog Caroling post – Carol of the Bells. This has to be a favorite of any choral singer because the movement of the voices is satisfying both melodically and harmonically. I loved it from the first choral run through. As a singer, you are blessed indeed if you are fortunate enough to sing this song in a choir with singers who are capable of singing with parts intermingled versus only getting to sing next to someone singing your same part.

Over the past few Christmases, I’ve sung with choirs who’ve sung two songs written by Michael W. Smith and they’ve both become favorites, not just for Christmas, but just favorites. One is No Eye Had Seen.

The second is All is Well. I love the way this song expresses both the message of joy of the arrival of God’s salvation and the sense of peaceful calm that joyful message brings. It was both those aspects that led me to choose this song to be played at my mother’s funeral service. Both these songs are on Michael W. Smith’s “Christmas” album.

A few years ago I found a Christmas album I really enjoy. It’s called Black Christmas: Spirituals in the African-American Tradition. Though I didn’t choose any of these as favorite carols, still as a classically-trained singer, I love the voices and interpretations on this album and the more I listen to it the more I enjoy it.

Pictures – Treasure Chest Thursday

In approximately 1946 in Gainesville, Texas, Mother bought two framed pictures that hung in our home until she gave them to me, probably in 1965 when she married Roy Billings and moved into his home. I have always loved the photos, though they are very different in style from any other pictures I’ve ever had; over the next few years, as we bought new pieces of furniture (and even carpeting)  for the living area, I chose colors in the muted to dark greens or honey colored accent pieces to coordinate with the colors in the prints.

The pictures were originally in small wood frames with no matting. In the middle 1970s, my then husband decided to try his hand at framing pictures. He purchased the materials from a Durham framing shop – narrow wood framing with a rich dark green in the center, cream-colored mat with a gold layer underneath, the butcher-type paper for the backing, small hooks and wires for hanging. Though Wayne mostly thought and behaved in scientific mode, when he occasionally ventured into the more artistic world, he always did a credible job, as he did with these two heirloom pictures. They still hang in a prominent spot on my living room wall.

Update December 2014: This items are in Wayne Brown’s  possession.