Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Collaborators And Creations: Tim Sharp and High Lonesome Mass

I've worked in many collaborative situations over the course of my working life, some public and official and others somewhat less so.

One of my favorite, public and official collaborative friendships over the past twenty years has been with Dr. Tim Sharp, Executive Director of American Choral Directors Association. He is a one-man inspirational franchise--conductor, business executive, author, editor, scholar, Pied Piper, banjoist and composer. He's a Force of Nature, the Iron Man of choral music, the person who lights up the room when he enters. He also shows up with brilliant ideas for pieces of music, the latest being High Lonesome Mass. 

Only Tim would arrive in town, set up the meeting at Noshville Deli near Nashville's Music Row, and propose we set the Ordinary of the Mass to bluegrass music. He had Southern Harmony tunes picked for each of the five movements, and we set about outlining our approach on a legal pad. A few months and drafts later, we were in the studio with Nashville's finest (including the Opry's bass player), recording stunning tracks and preparing to roll out the premiere performances.

Composer Paul Carey was in attendance at the Chor Anno performance in September 2011, and shares glowing words about the piece:

Come Away to the Skies is intended for concert presentation or within a liturgical service. Most of the performances so far have been in the concert mode, and recently added special slide shows and lighting designed by Tim and Wes have made the work an even greater success with audiences. The piece is not meant as a tongue in cheek novelty item with a fake feel to the bluegrass music- the music and texts have substance and creativity and truly represent the melding of traditions in the best possible sense. With that said, don't expect anything stuffy and academic- at the Chor Anno performance little grannies in the audience around me were tappin' their toes, especially to the Credo! The piece, which embraces both simplicity and also sublime matters of faith as well as musical folk tradition in this country, was a major highlight of the Chor Anno concerts.

High praise indeed, from such an august source. I'm certainly flattered!

I've heard, and sometimes been in attendance at other performances, most recently at Berry College in Georgia, where the band included my old friend and colleague Stan Pethel.  It's a joy to watch the piece come together, especially with college students, who may not be conversant with either the mass form or the great traditions of bluegrass music and Southern Harmony tunes. I've seen succeed as a concert piece, as well as integrated into worship.

Four performances are already scheduled for 2013, and the piece travels to the UK and Ireland in December 2013.

For those interested in performing High Lonesome Mass, we keep things simple. You purchase the vocal scores, rent the instrumental parts, and are given our blessing to perform it to your heart's content during the license period. My music prep and library service handles all the printing/shipping of the instrumental parts. Vocal scores are made available for download from a link I provide.

I can be contacted at wes(dot)ramsay(at) for more information.

Here's the Credo--hope you enjoy. By the way--that banjo player in the video? That's Tim!

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