Michael David Ging Commissions New Work
Michael David Ging has commissioned a new Concerto for Organ from Daniel Sigmon to be premeiered on October 18th, 2013 at New Hope Lutheran Church at 7:30 PM with a preconcert talk at 7:00 PM. This commission is part of a larger commission for two organ concertos, the other being written by Ryan Gagnon. The work will be scored for Organ, Strings, and Percussion. More details about tickets and relevant information will be updated here when available.
Opera Goes West
Larkspur celebrates life of Depression-era pastor in Texas
By Greg Warner
Susan Smith March 2012
ABILENE, Texas (ABP) -- Opera and West Texas may seem like an odd combination. But to the creators of Larkspur, a new opera about a pastor's struggles during the Great Depression, it's a natural.
Larkspur, which premieres April 1-2 in Abilene, Texas, was written by Texas natives Daniel Sigmon and Edward Crowell about Sigmon's great-grandfather, Hermon Gregory, a pastor and a founding father of the West Texas town of Odessa. The two-act opera recounts Gregory's struggle to make a living and find his calling during the Depression.
"Like any good opera, it is, in every way, a love story," said Crowell, 29, who wrote the lyrics and sings the lead role.
In fact, the on-stage love between Hermon and wife Maye contributed to a real-life romance between Crowell and soprano Nicole Kenley, who sings the role of Maye. The couple fell in love during development of the opera and were married last April.
"The chance for us to sing the roles of these married characters together is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Kenley, 29.
Kenley, Crowell and Sigmon are all opera graduates of Abilene's Hardin-Simmons University and the university's Abilene Collegiate Opera. Larkspur is a production of Abilene Collegiate Opera and Lakehouse Opera, a production company started by the trio, all of whom now live in Houston.
"Not often does a married couple get to sing together in a show, much less portray a married couple," added Crowell. "We have found over and over the depth of the love of these two, Hermon and Maye, and it has challenged us in our own struggles. That is: If Hermon and Maye could survive what they went through, we can too."
The opera had its genesis in Sigmon and Crowell's desire to write an opera "set in West Texas about West Texans," said composer and Odessa native Sigmon, who is director of worship at New Hope Lutheran Church in Missouri City, Texas. After exploring several ideas without success, Sigmon was given a few audiotapes of his great-grandfather preaching. They inspired Sigmon and Crowell to write their first full-length opera -- "one that would pay homage to our heritage as Baptists and as musicians," said Sigmon, 29.
What followed, Sigmon said, was "three years of planning, then nine months of frantic writing." He researched Gregory's life -- from his failed grocery store in Depression-era Ranger, Texas, to a fateful train ride west and the last-minute decision to start over in what would become Odessa in the early 1930s.
Gregory took work in another grocery and butcher shop. But the man who became known as "Preacher Butch" also struggled with a calling to preach, eventually becoming pastor of Eastside Baptist Church, where he served 35 years. "He was very much a celebrity in Odessa," said Sigmon, who as a child briefly knew his great-grandfather before his death in 1981.
The result is a story about "real people with real problems," said Crowell, particularly Gregory's "internal struggle of faith and his journey -- both physical and spiritual -- toward becoming who he was made to be."
All three -- Kenley, Crowell and Sigmon -- studied opera under Jayne Middleton, professor of voice and associate dean at Hardin-Simmons' school of music, who also encouraged Sigmon and Crowell to write a full-length opera.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for composer, director and singer alike," Crowell said. "The commission from the Abilene Collegiate Opera was invaluable. Many composers do not even write opera because of its great expense to produce."
Middleton is stage director for the Abilene production, at the historic Paramount Theater. Loyd Hawthorne, choral director of the school of music, will conduct the full orchestra and chorus.
Although the Abilene production runs only two days, the trio hopes to stage the opera again, perhaps in Houston.
Written in the "American lyric opera" style, Larkspur is intended "to make opera accessible to any audience," Crowell said. Although it is not a "religious" show, he said, it incorporates two familiar hymns, "Rescue the Perishing" and "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."
"It's probably the first time those tunes have been put in an opera," Sigmon quipped.
Larkspur is named for a hardy annual flower, Maye Gregory's favorite. "When they die, they get brittle," Sigmon said, "and the seeds scatter when the pods are broken. It's symbolic of their lives."
"The one thing we really believe about this opera," Sigmon added, "it's not just a story about my great-grandfather. So much of it is a story of everyone -- how you struggle with your role in life, and how little decisions end up being important."
Nicole Kenley Miller Commissions New Work
Nicole Kenley Miller, accomplished vocalist and teacher in the Houston Metro, has commissioned a new song cycle of Daniel Sigmon based on her own poetry for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano Trio. It will be premiered on May 15th, 2015 at New Hope Lutheran Church in Missouri City, Texas. For tickets and more information you can click here or find the event on Eventbrite.com.
A second performance will take place on Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 7:30 PM at Dudley Recital Hall on the campus of the Univeristy of Houston (Parking in Lot 16 across from Moores School of Music). The performance is FREE and open to the public.