This L’il Light of Mine

Dr. Anthony Leach
Division R&S Chair, Music in Worship

Many of you know that the African American Music Festival at Penn State began in 1995 with a single concert presented by Essence of Joy. The following year I invited choirs from the School of Music to participate and then in 1997, I coordinated an extended series with guest lecturers, recitals and of course a concert by EOJ. In 2003 the Celebration of African American Spirituals Festival featured commissioned works by Moses Hogan, Keith Hampton, Marvin Curtis, Rosephanye Powell, Robert Morris, Roland Carter and Glenn Burleigh. Lawrence Burnett was our guest lecturer. This festival also brought to campus collegiate and high school choirs as guest performers.

In February 2005, I decided to only present EOJ in a single concert. My friend and colleague, Dave Dietz, choral director at Central Dauphin High School, Harrisburg contacted me to see if he could bring his Women’s Choir, CD Chanson to campus for the festival. I informed him that we were not hosting a festival but he could bring his choir to University Park for Dr. Lynn Drafall and me to share time. Dr. Drafall worked with the choir during the morning. I observed the process and was very moved by their choral sound. Nathan Trimmer, PSU and EOJ alum was student teaching with Dave Dietz so he was present for the session. During the lunch break, I went to my studio with a melody in mind but no text. As I continued to work at the piano, the text for This Little Light of Mine came to mind and I began to flesh out a choral arrangement for women’s choir. The arrangement is dedicated to David Dietz and CD Chanson as well as Nathan and Aimee Trimmer.

I returned to room 110 for the afternoon session and taught the choir by rote my arrangement of This L’il Light of Mine. It worked! The kids loved it. Neal and I scored it later in the month for SATB choir because Essence of Joy and the Oriana Singers were sharing Spring Campus Concerts later in the semester. This piece became the transitional piece to get one choir off stage while the other choir emerged. Success!

Since 2005 I’ve shared this piece with the Essence of Joy Alumni Singers as well as festival choirs in Pennsylvania. This past August, I presented two interest sessions at the 10th World Choral Symposium coordinated by the International Federation of Choral Musicians. This festival was held in Seoul, South Korea. I invited several members of EOJAS along with two guests to travel with me as we shared several of the commissioned works that EOJ has premiered since 2003. In that audience was Anton Armstrong, conductor of the St. Olaf Choir. We are very dear friends and colleagues in choral music. He asked if he could share my choral arrangement with the St. Olaf Choir and also at Carnegie Hall this spring when he will guest conduct a high school national honor choir. Absolutely, no problem!

[pdfviewer width=”600px” height=”849px” beta=”true/false”][/pdfviewer]Preview the first two pages of Dr. Leach’s This L’il Light of Mine

So tonight, I along with several friends are traveling to Pittsburgh, PA for a concert presented by the St. Olaf Choir in Heinz Hall. This L’il Light of Mine has been sung across the USA as this choir has shared its musical offering on its annual spring tour. There is also a ‘side’ story for this piece that is worth sharing. When I invited Moses Hogan to participate in the 2003 commissioning project, he consented to do so but shared that he would not be able to do an arrangement of This Little Light of Mine. He did not say why but instead completed ‘Let the Heaven Light Shine on Me’ since all of the composers were invited to create a work that focused on either This Little Light of Mine or the concept of light as revealed through text. While listening to the 2002 Christmas program presented by the St. Olaf Choir, a strange thing occurred. The choir sang This Little Light of Mine arranged by Moses Hogan. Well now you know the rest of that story!

So in the end, Moses Hogan and I have created settings of this text that reveal regional differences in melody and harmony depending on where one lives within the USA. EOJ, EOJAS and Essence 2 presented my arrangement last November  during our ‘Give Us This Day’ concert held at Bellefonte High School. I had no idea in February 2005 that this piece would have ‘legs’ beyond that rote session with CD Chanson. Well here we are ten years later and the piece is quickly gathering momentum beyond our Penn State experience.

For that I remain humbled and grateful!

If you are interested in This L’il Light of Mine, contact Dr. Leach directly.