Director of Bands to Premiere New Work for Trombone and Organ

News Story: November 1, 2010

Sacred Heart University Director of Bands, Keith Johnston will give the world premiere of A Blue Iris, a new work for trombone and organ, on Sunday, November 21st , during the 11:30am mass at St. Thomas More Church in Darien, Connecticut, along with Music Instructor, Galen Tate.  Johnston commissioned the piece from New York City-based composer Dr. Steven Rosenhaus. 

“I’ve known Steven for over 15 years,” said Johnston, “and when he was at Sacred Heart last spring working with band members on his new ‘Etude Project’ (a series of works commissioned by the U.S. Navy School of Music), we discussed the idea of a piece for trombone and organ that would be appropriate for a variety of different faiths.” 

“It is unusual to commission a Jewish composer to write music intended for use in Christian services,” said Rosenhaus, “but not unheard of; Leonard Bernstein, for example, wrote his ‘Chichester Psalms’ for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals' Festival at Chichester Cathedral. While Bernstein chose the occasion to assert his own Judaism, I decided on a more interfaith approach for A Blue Iris.”

The title is derived from the poem "Praying" by Mary Oliver, in which prayer doesn't have to be fancy or complex ("It doesn't have to be a blue iris") to open a door "into thanks.” Sometimes the simplest, softest prayers can be the most powerful. From a musical standpoint this translates into a meditation for trombone and organ; both instruments, each capable of great power, focus their energies inward. The work is tonal; everything derives from the trombone's opening simple oscillation between two notes and the organ's thoughtful response.

About the artists:

Steven L. Rosenhaus (born 1952) is a composer, arranger, conductor and educator living and working in New York City. He serves as adjunct assistant professor of composition at New York University; he is the author of "The Etude Project, Volume 1" for chamber ensembles and is the co-author with Allen Cohen of the book Writing Musical Theater. His music is performed worldwide by such musicians as the Meridian String Quartet, the Dresden Sinfonietta, and the Ploiesti Symphony (Romania) as well as several U.S. military ensembles including the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, DC, and the Naval Academy Band in Annapolis, Maryland. His works are recorded on the Capstone, Richardson, Musical Tapestries, and MPP labels.

Keith Johnston has been director of Bands at Sacred Heart University since 2003.  As a trombonist in Pittsburgh, he performed with numerous professional groups including the Westmoreland, Wheeling, and Mckeesport symphony orchestras.  He has been an active freelancer for over 20 years performing with shows, big bands and brass ensembles. Johnston also teaches trombone at Ecole St. Trinite de Musique in Port au Prince, Haiti, and has performed as principal trombone with the national orchestra of Haiti: Orchestra Philharmonic St. Trinite.  Johnston received both his BFA and M.Mus degrees from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he studied trombone with Byron McCulloh.

Galen Tate is the accompanist for the Sacred Heart University Concert Choir, Liturgical Choir and 4 Heart Harmony. He received his B.Mus. in Organ Performance from the University of Arkansas and M.Mus. in Organ Performance from the University of Tennessee.  Mr. Tate is a frequent guest in organ concert series throughout the country, recently performing with the United Chorale and Orchestra (Bridgeport) as soloist in Poulenc’s Organ Concerto and in solo recitals at the Cathedral of Saint Mary, San Francisco (CA); St. Mary Church, Newport (RI); and in the More Music Concert Series, which he directs at St. Thomas More Church. He has performed in churches and concert halls in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C., and in England, Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. As organist and music director of St.Thomas More Church, Darien, Connecticut, he has led a vibrant music ministry since 1990.