Noel’s Psalm

Noel’s Psalm (A Sonata for Organ) is the result of a commission from Rebeccah Neff. The piece honors the memory of her brother, Noel J. Kinnamon (1943-2012), on what would have been his 75th birthday (6 September 2018). Dr. Kinnamon was a distinguished scholar of English literature and a consummate university professor, dedicating 45 years of his professional life to the Department of English at Mars Hill University in Mars Hill, North Carolina. I was fortunate to have been among the thousands of students that he taught. His love for poetry brought about the creation of a number of poems, some of them published. Spring Planting: Psalm 65, published in the Spring 1986 edition of Christianity & Literature (An Interdisciplinary Journal), was one of those poems. It is that poem that provided the extra-musical stimulus for Noel’s Psalm (A Sonata for Organ).

In four movements, Noel’s Psalm (A Sonata for Organ), is approximately 14 minutes in length and was completed in May 2017. The first movement, Chaconne, uses the variation form known by the same name to construct a rich and lyrical opening to the sonata. The nature of this chaconne symbolizes the grounded nature of the “host,” with the downward motion of the melodic lines symbolizing “Spring Planting.” The short second movement, “Scherzo,” is based on only four pitches. “Scherzo” means “joke.” While the traditional “scherzo” as developed by Beethoven is in triple meter, this “Scherzo” instead alternates meters (thus not making it a true traditional “scherzo”). Still, it is a playful movement that has its own “run of the place” (as Dr. Kinnamon’s poem so whimsically describes). The third and longest movement of Noel’s Psalm (A Sonata for Organ), Aria, weaves and “sings a green and quivering light.” It is the soul of the composition. Lyrical throughout, it begins serenely, eventually building to a rich climax with the power of full organ before dissolving into a hushed ending. The fourth movement, Dance, is rhythmical and exuberant throughout, inviting all who hear it “…to join the song, to feel the dance.” The vibrant concluding measures of Dance recapitulate the opening measures of the first movement, Chaconne, thus ending Noel’s Psalm (A Sonata for Organ) in cyclic fashion.

Dr. Kinnamon, a music lover, was also an organist and a supporter for many years of the prestigious Duke Chapel Organ Recital Series at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. How appropriate then that Noel’s Psalm (A Sonata for Organ) received its World Premiere on that Series on 25 March 2018 as performed by Dr. Robert Parkins (University Organist, Duke University).
Dan Locklair
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Spring Planting: Psalm 65

We praise you as we praise the best of hosts,
One who has spared not cost or pain and would,
We know–far more than host–defend us from
The beasts, the ghosts, that grin in each dark wood.

More than host, you cause us to be here and
Give us the run of the place, sweeping up
Behind when we smash the pots or spill the
Wine, confident that you will refill the cup.

Around us sings a green and quivering light,
Mornings come and evenings go, and as you
Water the ridges, settle the furrows,
You promise to crown the year with good things,
And springing hills rejoice on every side.

Give us the grace to join the song,
to feel the dance in the blood.

Noel J. Kinnamon

Kinnamon, N. Spring Planting: Psalm 65.
Christianity & Literature, 35(3), pp. 6.
Copyright © 1986 by the Author.
Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications, Ltd.