Music of Stephen Shewan



Music of Stephen Shewan




The Voice of the Lord in the Storm · Magnificat


A Feast of Carols · Of Animals & Insects


The Widow's Lament in Springtime · String Quartet No. 1






STEPHEN SHEWAN (b. 6 August1962 in Warsaw, New York) teaches music and directs the bands at Williamsville East High School in western New York state and plays second French horn with the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra under music director Heiichiro Ohyama. He is a graduate of Roberts Wesleyan College and Ithaca College. At the Eastman School of Music, he studied composition with Samuel Adler while pursuing his doctorate in music education. He has composed music for numerous media, including orchestra, string quartet, symphonic band, brass ensemble, solo voice, choir and piano.




With strong appeal for professional and amateur groups alike, Shewan's works for chorus are both melodic and accessible, at times propelled by catchy rhythms flavored with jazz and pop idioms. In this regard, his music has an attraction similar to that of the English composer John Rutter, albeit with a distinctly American accent. Other parallels may be drawn with the music of such diverse contemporary composers as Benjamin Britten, Daniel Pinkham and Randall Thompson, all of whom loved the human voice and wrote works of serious import which nevertheless earned enthusiastic public acceptance. In these compositions we hear a fresh voice at work, demonstrating a talent for ingratiating melody, infectious rhythm, and a command of colorful instrumentation using small forces.




The Voice of the Lord in the Storm, with text adapted from Psalm 29, was written in 1992 and is scored for SATB chorus, four trumpets and organ. The choice of musical forces was inspired by the text, Psalm 29, which speaks of the majesty and power of God through acts of nature. Written in slow-fast-slow form, the work opens with a stately declamation from the first trumpet offstage. With the words "Ascribe to the Lord...", the various sections of the choir majestically enter one by one, while the remaining trumpets join to weave an elaborate and brilliant arabesque over and around the choral recitative. The trumpets' primeval sounds project the ancient yet eternal nature of the text.




The fortissimo entrance of the organ announces the beginning of the storm with the fast middle section, which begins with the words "The voice of the Lord is on the waters..." and continues with musical evocations of the several manifestations of the Almighty as described in the words of the psalmist. The trumpets, organ and chorus build throughout the storm sequence using dissonance and special effects. This fast middle section ends with the emotional high-point of the work, an extended crescendo on the words "...and in His temple all cry...", leading to the climax on "Glory."




The work concludes with a an unaccompanied, hymn-like benediction, "May the Lord bless His people with peace." Distant trumpets and organ pedal-point outline the serene final cadence on "peace."




Various composers throughout music history have found the Magnificat to be an evocative and compelling text for musical treatment. Most such settings use the Latin Vulgate version from St. Luke's gospel. This English version of the Song of Mary is Shewan's own adaptation from several sources and is his largest work to date. It was composed during 1991 and received its première at Pearce Memorial Free Methodist Church in Rochester shortly before Christmas of that year. Subsequent revisions took place in the months prior to this recording. The initial inspiration came from the composer's father, who requested a contemporary Magnificat with an English text, and from the composer's admiration for J. S. Bach's exalted Latin setting.




The first movement uses themes and harmonies from which much of the material in the later movements is generated. The majestic five-note motif which recurs throughout the work is stated immediately at the beginning in a forte proclamation, "Magnify the Lord!" This initial theme is presented in numerous variants in ABABA form, featuring vigorous rhythms and intensifying momentum where chorus and instruments toss thematic variants back and forth in imitative passages. The B section of the movement comprises the second line of text, "My spirit delights..." It is given its own distinctive, more subdued, treatment, with contrasting melismatic sections of women's voices bracketed by the rest of the ensemble. The movement ends with a quiet, simple restatement of the main theme by the solo trumpet.




In the second movement, a modal mezzo-soprano solo accompanied by horn, tuba and organ emphasizes the "low estate" of Mary when she receives the message from God.




The third opens with a trumpet fanfare and imitative soprano solo ("For behold!...") accompanied by brass and organ, with choral interjections accompanied by organ only. One of the most powerful moments of the work is the proclamation "Holy is He!" by the full chorus fortissimo.




The fourth movement consists of a baritonerecitative which underscores the strength of the Lord. It moves without pause into the fifth movement, a brilliant unaccompanied four-voice fugue depicting the "scattering of the proud" with descending chromatic phrases. It continues with a brass interlude and a dynamic, syllabic setting of "He has put down the mighty from their thrones," followed by a return of the fugal material. At the words " the imagination of their hearts," the section ends with a dramatic climax over a thundering pedal point in the organ




The sixth movement is a lyrical tenor and French horn duet with organ accompaniment, setting the words "He has filled the hungry with good things." The middle section, an ecstatic interplay between the solo horn and singer at the words "He has exalted those of low degree," comprises an emotional high point of the work.




The final movement starts with the solo quartet in a contemplative setting of the words "He has helped his servant Israel," and continues into an a cappella choral section on the words "in remembrance of His mercy." The Magnificat ends with a triumphant reiteration of the theme of the opening movement.




Shewan had this to say regarding his Feast of Carols: "In the fall of 1987, I decided to compose a work for my parents and present it to them at Christmas time. I have always had a fondness for Christmas music and I thought it was time for me to try my hand at it. Rather than set the traditional Christmas story to music, I chose the route of using traditional Christmas carols and setting them to original music. Certainly this concept was strongly motivated by the examples of Britten's Ceremony of Carols and Daniel Pinkham's Christmas Cantata."




"After searching through countless Christmas carols for appropriate texts, I found the volume Ancient English Carols MCCCC to MDCC collected and arranged by Edith Rickert. My wife Ruth helped choose the five texts that eventually became A Feast of Carols. We were both drawn to the old English words with the occasional use of Latin. The work was completed in October, 1988, and was premièred that December."




The first carol, which uses the full ensemble of soloists, chorus and brass quintet, describes the arrival of "a child so fair in sight" and the visit of the three wise men. The angel's warning to Joseph and Mary not to go home is given by the soprano soloist, while Herod's questioning of the wise men is sung by the baritone. The piece starts with the main theme sung by the tenors, and is often sung thereafter by two of the voice parts in unison or canon. A sense of evil forboding is intensified by the eerie sound of ostinato brass beneath and vocal glissandi in the sopranos and altos above the baritone solo. The mood shifts dramatically from unease to subdued joy as the following a cappella section depicts the wise men arriving at the "place where Jesus and his mother was." The chorus ends triumphantly with the three wise men kneeling in devotion to the "King of Great Renown..."




The second carol features the four-part women's semi-chorus, in which the joy of the news told to the shepherds is contrasted with the sadness of humanity's fall from grace and the humble circumstances of a baby's birth in a stable among livestock.




The third movement alternates light, bouncy music and English text in the verse with lyrical, flowing music and Latin text in the refrain. "As the sun shineth in the glass, so Jesus of His Mother born was"here the seemingly commonplace events of that first Christmas are revealed as part of God's eternal, mysterious plan: "O lux beata Trinitas." ("O light of the blessed Trinity.")




The fourth carol takes the form of an antiphon between the baritone cantor, supported by chordal brass imitative of tolling church bells, and the men's chorus, responding with the phrase "God who is our Saviour." The middle section combines the full men's chorus, brass, and a melismatic French horn solo to depict that first adoration as the shepherds hear the angel's message of Jesus's birth.




The last movement employs jazz rhythms and a modified rondo form to illustrate the words "When Christ was born of Mary free." It starts with one voice, the soprano, and with each succeeding verse adds a voice part. Similarly, the brass begins with trumpets in the jazz rhythm and trombone in a simple accompaniment figure, adding a new instrument to the rhythm at each verse. The full ensemble builds to a fortissimo conclusion on the refrain "In excelsis gloria!"




Of Animals and Insects, with texts by Ogden Nashthe composer's favorite humoristwas commissioned for the Pennsylvania Music Educator's Association District 11 Chorus in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Quakertown Community School District. Originally scored for voices with piano, the work was later revised for a wind sextet accompaniment to better suit the flavor of the piece. The Bat, which has an eerie aura, contains rapid passages in the winds depicting the bat's fleeting evening flight. The Praying Mantis is based on chant-like material reflecting the spiritual connotation that Nash associates with this insect. The final piece, The Lama, uses exotic harmonies and an intensifying ostinato in 7/8 meter to create the unusual atmosphere appropriate to a beast as strange as the llama (as well as the silliness of the text!).




The Widow's Lament in Springtime is a secular work for mezzo-soprano, oboe, cello and piano set to the poem by the same title by the American poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963). It was composed in 1991, and was first performed in Kilbourn Hall at the Eastman School in February, 1992.




Through an expressive use of dissonance, the music vividly depicts the anguish of the text. An augmented arpeggiated passage presented by the oboe, coupled with the cello crying a descending semi-tone in harmonics, sets the mood at the opening. These two ideas generate much of the ensuing material. Throughout the piece, emotions are throttled between the pain felt by the widow's loss, and the rejuvenation that nature's rebirth offers in springtime.




String Quartet No. 1 was written in 1992 while the composer was a Doctoral student at the Eastman School of Music studying with Samuel Adler. The four-movement work is in a slow-fast-slow-fast form similar to that of the sonata da chiesa or church sonata. Although there are no explicit texts, religious or otherwise, associated with the Quartet, a tough spirituality does infuse it from beginning to end, its mixture of melody and dissonance, rhapsody and anxiety finding an appropriate musical parallel with the eternal conflict of faith and doubt.




The work begins with a slow movement, Song. There are two major sections consisting of theme groups. many of these theme groups are restated in a transformed state in the following movements. Both sections climax with a dramatic lyrical theme in minor tonality casting a tragic aura over the quartet. The use of harmonics, a unifying factor throughout the quartet, is also introduced in the first movement.




The second movement, Dance I, is a 5/8 scherzo in modified rondo form. The themes are generated from all three of the other movements. Slow themes from the first movement appear in a diminuted dance-like state. Themes from the third movement are forshadowed briefly in the main theme of this movement. Although the primary mood is light and bouncy, the movement is suffused with an eerie quality and ends in a panicked frenzy.




This movement was written last and, with its summation of many of the themes of the other three movements, was originally intended to be the finale. However, after the first performance, the composer realized that its lighter nature served the quartet structure better as an inner movement and so was swapped with the anxious and dramatic Dance II, which became the (more convincing) finale.




Elegy is a slow, rhapsodic movement and the composer's personal favorite. it was written in homage to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Stringsthus the slow chorale section that occurs three times. There are, however, no intended quotes from the Adagio or from any specific Barber work. Elegy exists in an augmented version for string orchestra, with the addition of string divisi and double bass.




Dance II is, in Shewan's words, "the most nervous piece that I have ever composed." Filled with spiky dissonance and driving rhythms, it presents a sharp contrast to the previous movement while placing virtuoso demands on the performers. The form is a modified arch with a coda that restates the closing theme of the Song, adding a cyclic unity to the work as a whole. Again the moods created are tense and even mystical during the center section. The Quartet ends with a fff unison statement of the main theme.




String Quartet No. 1 was given its premiere on 5 October 1994 in Evanston, Illinois, by the Ad Hoc String Quartet on the opening concerts of its fall series.




Notes © 1994 by John Proffitt






The Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale, an ensemble noted for its unique choral sound, is the cultural ambassador of Roberts Wesleyan College, the distinguished liberal arts institution in the Christian tradition located in Rochester, New York. The Chorale performs regularly with the Rochester Philharmonic under such conductors as David Zinman, Isaiah Jackson, Enrique Diemecke, Darryl One and Mark Elder. In 1986 the Chorale made its Carnegie Hall debut in a concert performance of Beethoven's Fidelio.




Ever mindful of the need to present choral music as a living, growing tradition, the Chorale maintains an active program of performing and recording new music. In 1980, in the presence of the composer, the Chorale performed Psalm settings by Howard Hanson, which were later committed to compact disc. With the Rochester Chamber Orchestra under David Fetler, the Chorale presented the world première of John La Montaine's The Marshes of Glynn. In 1992, under the direction of the composer, the Chorale premièred Ever Since Babylon, Samuel Adler's cantata commemorating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's voyage to the New World and the simultaneous expulsion of the Jews from Spain. During their 1993 Spring Tour, the Chorale gave the first public performances of I Corinthians 13, written for the Chorale by Christopher Theofanidis.




Chorale recordings include Mozart's Coronation Mass (Vox8164), with the Rochester Philharmonic under David Zinman; Sing Unto the Lord, featuring hymn-anthems, psalms and spiritual songs (Gasparo); Choral Music of Howard Hanson (TROY129); Choral Music of Anton Bruckner (Albany TROY 063), and a forthcoming Albany disc of Choral Music of Roy Harris. In addition, the Chorale has been featured in nationwide broadcasts over National Public Radio.




Conductor Robert Shewan is chairman of the Fine Arts Division at Roberts Wesleyan College and has directed the Chorale since 1969. He has degrees from Mansfield State College, Ithaca College and the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He is the author of several texts, including Singing and the Brain: a Handbook for Voice Teachers; is well known as a guest conductor at various choral festivals; and serves as a clinician and adjudicator.




Selections #1-16 recorded in Downtown United Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York; C.B. Fisk tracker-action organ.




Selection #17 recorded in Parmenter Chapel, Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester, New York.




Selections #18-21 recorded in Millar Chapel, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.




Technical support provided by Lee Furr Audio, Tucson, Arizona; and Visser-Rowland Associates, Houston.










Ascribe to the Lord, all you mighty, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.




Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship Him in holy array.




The voice of the Lord is on the waters;




The God of Glory thunders, the Lord over many waters.




The voice of the Lord is powerful and full of majesty.




The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire; He shakes the wilderness.




The voice of the Lord makes the oaks to whirl and strips the forest bare.




And in His temple all cry, "Glory".




May the Lord bless His people with peace.




from Psalm 29




MAGNIFICAT (Sung in English)




I. Magnify the Lord; My spirit delights in God, my savior.


II. For He has regarded the low estate of His servant.


III. For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. He who is mighty has done great things for me. His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. Holy is His name.




IV. He has shown strength with His arm.




V. He has scattered the proud. He has put down the mighty from their throne in the imagination of their hearts.




VI. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has exalted those of low degree.




VII. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity, forever.




from Luke 1:46








Now is Christmas y-come (15th Century Text)




Now is Christmas y-come, Father and Son together as one,




Holy Ghost as ye be one, as ye be one in fere-a,




God send us a good New Year-a.




I would you sing for an I might of a child so fair in sight,




His Mother Him bore this ender night, this ender night so still-a,




And as it was his will-a.




There came three kings from Galilee to Bethlehem that fair city,




To seek Him that ever should be, that ever should be by right-a,




Lord and king and knight-a.




As they went forth with their offering,




They met with Herod that moody king, that moody king this tide-a,




And this to them he said-a.




Of whence be ye you kingës three? Of the East as you may see,




Seeking Him that ever should be, that ever should be by right-a,




Lord and King and Knight-a.




When you at this child have be, come home again by me,




Tell me the sight that you have see I pray-a,




Go you no other way-a.




They took their leave both old and ying, of Herod that moody king,




They went forth with their offering, their offering by light-a,




By the star that shone so bright-a.




Till they come into the place where Jesus and His Mother was,




Offered they up with great solace, with great solace in fere-a,




Gold, incense and myrrh-a.




The Father of heaven an angel down sent,




To thiccy three kings that made present this tide-a,




And this to them she said-a.




My Lord hath warned you everyone, by Herod king, you go not home,




For an you do he will slone and strye-a




And hurt you wonderly-a.




Forth then went these kingës three, till they came home to their country,




Glad and blithe they were all three,




of the sight that they had seen-a.




The company was clean-a.




Kneel we now here a down, pray we in good devotion,




To the king of great renown, to the king of grace-a,




In heaven to have a place-a.






I Heard a Mess of Merry Shepherds (About 1611)




I heard a mess of merry shepherds sing,




a joyful song full of sweet delight.




Their ditty was how that a king,




in Bethlehem was born that night,




Whose Mother was a virgin fair and bright,




and Mary hight her blessed name, a Queen of fame,




Who for the fault of Adam's sin,




Was brought abed even in an inn.




A joyful news let us rejoice, with heart and voice.




Yet how can we but weep alas,




To see between an ox and ass,




In manger poor the babe he lies,




That made the world and rules the skies?






In Bethlehem, That Fair City (15th Century)




In Bethlehem, that fair city, was born a child that was so free,




Lord and Prince of high degree. Fam lucis orto sidere.




Jesu, for the love of Thee, children were slain great plenty,




In Bethlehem, that fair city. A solis ortus cardine.




As the sun shineth in the glass, so Jesus of His Mother born was,




Him to serve God give us grace. O lux beata Trinitas.




Now is He our Lord Jesus, thus hath He truly visited us,




Now to make merry among us. Exultet celum laudibus.






In This Timë (Before 1536)




In this timë God hath sent, His own son to be present,




to dwell with us in verament, God that is our Saviour.




In this timë that is befall, a child was born in an ox stall,




and after He died for us all, God that is our Saviour.




In this timë an angel bright, met three shepherds upon a night,




he bade them go anon right to God that is our Saviour.




In this timë now pray we, to Him who died for us on tree,




on us all to have pity, God that is our Saviour.






When Christ was Born of Mary Free (about 1500)




When Christ was born of Mary free, in Bethlehem that fair city,




Angels sungen with mirth and glee, in excelsis gloria!




Herdmen beheld these angels bright, to them appeared with great light,




And said, God's Son is born this night, in excelsis gloria!




This King is come to save His kind, as in scriptures we may find,




Therefore this song have we in mind, in excelsis gloria!




The Lord, for Thy great grace, grant us the bliss to see Thy face,




Where we may sing to Thee solace, Iin excelsis gloria!




Excerpted from Ancient English Carols MCCCC to MDCC, by Edith Rickert.




© 1966 Cooper Square Publishing Co., Savage, Maryland.




Used by permission










The Bat




Myself, I rather like the bat; it's not mouse; it's not a rat.




It has no feathers, yet has wings; it's quite inaudible when it sings.




It zig-zags through the evening air, and never lands in ladies' hair.




A fact of which men spend their lives, attempting to convince their wives.






The Llama




The one-L lama is a priest, the two-L llama is a beast;




And I will bet a silk pajama, there isn't any three-L llama.






The Praying Mantis




From whence arrived the praying mantis, from outer space or lost Atlantis?




I glimpse the grim green metal mug that masks this pseudo saintly bug;




Orthopterous, also carnivorous, and faintly whisper, Lord deliver us.




Ogden Nash








Sorrow is my own yard




where the new grass flames as it has flamed often before




but not with the cold fire that closes round me this year.




Thirty-five years I lived with my husband.




The plum tree is white today with masses of flowers.




Masses of flowers loaded the cherry branches




and color some bushes yellow and some red.




But the grief in my heart is stronger than they,




for though they were my joy formerly,




today I notice them and turned away forgetting.




Today my son told me that in the meadows,




at the edge of the heavy woods in the distance,




he saw trees of white flowers.




I feel that I would like to go there and fall into those flowers




and sink into the marsh near them.




William Carlos Williams










Music of Stephen Shewan






The Voice of the Lord in the Storm (5:09)




Magnificat (23:50)


Magnify the Lord (5:13) For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden (2:16)


For behold, all generations shall call him blessed (4:46) He has shown strength (1:28)


He has scattered the proud (2:55) He has filled the hungry with good things (4:05)


He has helped his servant Israel (3:10)


Erin Stedman, soprano; Kimberly Higgins, alto; Robert Dingman, tenor; Alexander Burgess, baritone


Paul Shewan, trumpet I; Barbara Hull, trumpet II; Nanita Wilson, horn; Scott Emmons, trombone


Kirk Kettinger, tuba; Ann Musser Honeywell, organ




A Feast of Carols (12:45)


Now is Christmas y-come (3:34) I heard a mess of merry shepherds sing (2:23)


In Bethlehem, that fair city (2:26) This time is born our Saviour (2:38)


When Christ was born of Mary free (1:49)


Jill Richardson, soprano; Alexander Burgess, baritone


Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale & Brass Ensemble · Robert Shewan, conductor




Of Animals and Insects: A Musical Zoo, after Ogden Nash (4:34)


The Bat (1:16)


The Praying Mantis (2:05)


The Lama (1:19)


Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale and Wind Ensemble


Robert Shewan, conductor




Of Animals and Insects: A Musical Zoo, after Ogden Nash (4:34)


The Bat (1:16)


The Praying Mantis (2:05)


The Lama (1:19)


Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale and Wind Ensemble


Robert Shewan, conductor




Total Time including pauses = 78:27




Produced and engineered by John Gladney Proffitt