submitted by Kyle Zeuch
Life-Long Choral Music R&R Committee Chair
Community Choirs R&R Representative
Jen Wagner, Pennsylvania choral composer and teacher, and I had the opportunity to meet up for the first time just a few weeks ago. I was delighted to learn about this wonderful human being and her music right in my own back yard! In addition to writing music, Jen serves as Middle Division General Music Teacher and Choral Director at Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. Jennifer received a Master of Music in Choral Conducting from Messiah College and a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education from Bloomsburg University. She is passionate about writing choral music with beauty that challenges singers. The piece I would like to highlight is Jen’s In the Bleak Midwinter.
The well-known Christina Rossetti Text and Gustav Holst song is given new life with Wagner’s SATB setting. This accompanied work incorporates baritone and cello solos, both of which give the piece a unique take. Additionally, she includes beautiful original music paired with the familiar melody and text. Divisi is reserved for soprano and a limited amount for basses, with all voice parts given interesting but accessible material. I am particularly struck by her treatment of the words “He reigns,” “A Kiss” (which catapults into a wonderful “Ah section”), and “My heart,” tenderly set at the end. Wagner prides herself in treating all of her texts with particular care with word painting being a priority to her compositional process—a sentiment that is not lost in this piece.
I would highly recommend this piece for community choirs as it appeals as both accessible for most, with challenges to bring out the full musical potential for more advanced groups. This piece will be available through GIA publishing this fall—just in time to purchase for your December concert! Please visit http://jenwagnermusic.com/ to learn more about this piece, hear a recording, and get more information about Jen and her works. Let’s support living composers right here in Pennsylvania—especially those as wonderful as Jen Wagner!