Artistic Reflections II: Beth McCoy
By Angela Wampler | December 24, 2007Beth McCoy of Abingdon, Va. directs the Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy and is a diaconal minister in the United Methodist Church. After watching a slide show of the King College art collection, she initially selected 59 interesting pieces, then narrowed the list to 13 for further study, and finally whittled it to two images.
Her first choice was an Italian "Madonna and Child" (1854) because "I thought it would be fun to write something for the East Tennessee Children's Choir (ETCC) to sing," she said. "When you are writing choral/vocal music, finding a good text to set to music is always a crucial issue. The 'Madonna and Child' seemed like a subject that would be perfect for writing an 'Ave Maria' for the ETCC — the text was already a good one."
She also selected Reginald Marsh's "New York City Street Scene." "I remember saying that I wanted 'first dibs' on it!" she laughed. Looking at the painting, she said, "I could hear the hustle and bustle of everyone coming back out into the streets after a spring shower, and I thought about writing it for marimba at first. Then when [clarinetist] Eugene Jones asked me to write something for him for the Artistic Reflections II concert, I was hooked! A near commissioning will get you anywhere with a composer!"
McCoy's "Ave Maria" is a choral anthem dedicated to soprano soloist Rachel Barker, Dr. W.P. "Pat" Flannagan and the King College Choir, and the ETCC. McCoy said, "My approach for the 'Ave Maria' was serious in that I had a melody in my head from the start — and funny because I had to keep working around the parameters of who would sing what. For example, there were rehearsal limitations for the ETCC — February 10 doesn't give the children much time to prepare — so I decided to write it for the King College Choir, too. Then I remembered that one of my favorite former voice students, Rachel Barker, was a senior at King, and I considered writing it for her to solo with the two choirs. I checked with Pat and Rachel to see if they were interested, and they were. Once I knew whose voice I had in my head, I found that writing the composition was like a flower opening, one petal at a time, but with grace and ease."
According to Flannagan, the King College Choir will begin working on the "Ave Maria" in January, but not with McCoy in attendance. "I know this is different than the collaboration that occurs between composer and solo performer," Flannagan explains, "but Beth knows my work and trusts me to interpret her music as she has indicated in the music. It is interesting to note that Rachel Barker started her musical career with Beth. Beth knows her voice well and has written this work to showcase Rachel's talent."
The composition begins with a piano accompaniment that has a rocking motion (like the Madonna rocking her Child). Many times in the piece, the children's choir will echo the last line of the soprano's solo, then the SATB choir fills out the same line in harmony. In the middle section, each voice in the SATB choir gets a "solo" line and the soprano soloist sings a descant. The form of the anthem is ABA, and with the return of the A section comes a fuller musical development and some new material which allows the soprano soloist to soar. The ending delighted Hal Hopson: how does a composition in C major end on an A major chord?! This composition could be used in a sacred service or in a secular concert.
As for the "Street Scene" composition, McCoy said, "My approach has been to research songs written between 1920 and 1955, gleaning the ones about rain and New York, as well as songs about details in the picture. I made a chart of the most appropriate ones and looked at how they might fit together in terms of keys, and also as if I were starting in the 1:00 o'clock position on the painting and turning the time backwards. It was amazing to see that they fit together very well as a rondo with a New York-themed song being the A section and the other songs filling in between. So basically I have my outline in mind; I just need to find time to put it on paper!"
— BOB GREENE JR. organist for State Street United Methodist Church in Bristol.
— ANN HOLLER teaches piano and is a lecturer in music at King College in Bristol.
— EVELYN PURSLEY-KOPITZKE was previously featured in "The Arts as Therapy" (August 2007) edition of A! Magazine for the Arts.
— - JANE PERRY teaches piano and composes music, although she has been deaf since about age two.
— Q & A with the composers.
— - To read a recent A! Magazine story on Beth McCoy go to http://artsmagazine.info and
search with keyword "therapy."
"Madonna and Child" is one of the paintings that inspired Beth McCoy's composition.