Clarksville, TN – The First Presbyterian Church has commissioned an Austin Peay State University music professor to compose a piece for choir and organ to celebrate the church’s bicentennial.
Dr. Jeffrey Wood wrote the work – “Windows of the Sky” – last summer, and the church’s choir started rehearsals on the piece earlier this year. Wood’s composition will be the centerpiece music of First Presbyterian’s Community Bicentennial Celebration, which is scheduled for Sunday, May 22nd at 2:00pm.
Wood said he’s flattered the church picked him to write the piece.
“I happen to think that a composer should be useful to his community,” he said, recalling a time when composers routinely created works for community use. “The idea of writing music to serve the community, the goal was to entertain. To provide pleasure. And that’s important to me.
“The idea of being part of the bicentennial celebration is great,” he added. “I love history – my father was a history teacher – so I’m tickled pink to be included.”
Finding beauty in ‘Windows of the Sky’
Glover first worked with Wood in 2019 when the professor agreed to play a concert in the church’s sanctuary featuring the music of Louis M. Gottschalk and hymns of the faith to help highlight the 19th century history of the church.
“I was impressed, to say the least,” the pastor said.
The church’s members wanted to include a commissioned choral piece in its bicentennial celebration because the First Presbyterian’s 175th anniversary featured such a work. That piece – “The Dwelling Place” – was written by Ann Laura Page, wife of then-Austin Peay State University President Oscar Page.
Wood’s composition for the bicentennial incorporates “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” with the Jewish hymn “Yigdal” and the “Reading of the Shema and Its Blessings” from the Shabbat liturgy.
The second text, “Reading of the Shema and Its Blessings,” also is famous and serves as an introduction to the text “Hear, O Israel,” which is the centerpiece of both morning and evening prayer services in Jewish liturgy and “encapsulates the essence of monotheism,” Wood said.
“With that in mind, I thought the sentiments expressed in these texts would provide a good introduction to those expressed in “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” he added. “I just really loved the images they portrayed.”
One image, in particular, comes during a series of blessings that occur before the recitation of “Shema Yisrael.”
“The God who daily opens the doors of the gates of the east and cleaves the windows of the sky,” Wood said. “Just every time I look at that, it’s just gorgeous.”
That image inspired the bicentennial composition’s name – “Windows of the Sky.”
“As a pastor and someone trained in theology, I was delighted to see that Dr. Wood has included elements of the Hebrew Bible in the composition,” Glover said.
Collaborating and a ‘Sense of Community’
“Dr. Wood has been very kind and easy to work with,” said Hannah Cruse, the music director and accompanist at First Presbyterian who has worked most directly with the Austin Peay professor.
Glover seconded that thought.
“We reached out to Dr. Wood because of the importance of the many connections our church has with APSU, and especially with the APSU music department, through student choir interns and former directors of music who were on the APSU faculty,” he said. “Whenever we have connected with APSU, it has been a source of professionalism and community support.”
First Presbyterian choir member Jane Wallace quoted composer John Rutter to capture her feelings about Wood’s composition: “Choral music is not one of life’s frills. It’s something that goes to the very heart of our humanity, our sense of community, and our souls. You express, when you sing, your soul in song. And when you get together with a group of other singers, it becomes more than the sum of the parts.”
To Learn More
You can visit First Presbyterian’s bicentennial webpage for more information about the celebration.