Crowley, McGuire collaborate on “The Ascension”
The musical collaboration of James Crowley and Patrick McGuire began with a question.
"I said to him: 'How come there are all of these songs for Christmas, there's even a goodly number of songs for Easter, but why is there no music for Good Friday?'" McGuire, a Senior English Lecturer at UW-Parkside, recently recalled.
That was the catalyst for McGuire and Crowley, his UW-Parkside Music Professor colleague and friend, to join forces on a Good Friday piece called "The Ascension." And on Friday, March 2, with help from UW-Parkside Wind Ensemble Conductor Mark Eichner and Choral Director James Kinchen, their musical poem will make its debut at 7:30 p.m. in the Frances Bedford Concert Hall of the Rita Tallent Picken Regional Center for Arts and Humanities.
McGuire and Crowley have been talking about collaborating almost from the first day the latter arrived on campus and was housed in an office next to the former. A mutual admiration society was formed around Crowley's piano playing and McGuire vocals. "He likes to sing and I like to accompany him on the piano," Crowley said.
"He plays piano very well," McGuire added. "And we used to actually rehearse songs. We'd get together and sing American pop tunes. And we had a great time."
They said their best songs are "All the Things You Are" and "Autumn Leaves."
With their musical friendship as a foundation, Crowley began perusing McGuire's writing for something he could set to music.
"I started browsing some texts of his that were not necessarily meant to be used as lyrics. [H]e's a very diverse writer, so there's a lot of different things," Crowley said. "So I found this section, which is kind of a self-contained shorter poem called 'The Ascension.' And I thought, with hardly any adjustment, this would work as a choral piece."
This poem was inspired by the Catholic ritual of the Holy Rosary.
"The Holy Rosary are prayers and meditations on the life of Jesus," McGuire said. "So this is the ascension of Jesus, which is the essence of Good Friday."
For Friday's performance, Crowley and McGuire's music and lyrics will be in the hands--and baton--of Mark Eichner. Eichner will lead the Wind Ensemble and the University Chorale and Master Singers after the vocalists were prepared by Dr. Kinchen. And while conducting the world premiere of "The Ascension" is exciting, the goal is to create the demand for repeat performances.
"You have the double responsibility of getting [the song] right for the composer, and, also, a premier is a great thing, but the second performance is also a great thing. So, whether it happens has a lot to do with how well we do our job," Eichner said.
Another incentive for Crowley and McGuire to complete their collaboration was the completion of the Frances Bedford Concert Hall.
"Bedford Hall is particularly sympathetic to the sound of voices and all instrumentation," said Crowley. "But for this kind of rich orchestration, I was hoping I would be able to time the completion of this piece with the opening of Bedford Hall. And it's happened."
The full Ranger Today interview with Crowley, Eichner, and McGuire is now on the UW-Parkside web site.
In addition to the world premiere of "The Ascension," the concert also features a performance of Gustav Holst's "Turn Back, O Man," for band and choir. Eichner said Holst composed the music at the onset of World War I, as an admonition to oppressive regimes. "English Dances" by Malcolm Arnold, Aram Khachaturian's "Dances from the Gayneh Ballet," and Pascual Perez Chovi's paso doble "Pepita Greus" complete the program.Admission to Friday's concert is $8 for adults and $5 for students, UW-Parkside faculty and staff, and seniors.