Review for “Calm on the Listening Ear of Night”

From the October 2018 issue of The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians:

Dan Locklair. Calm on the Listening Ear of Night, SATB, org. (Subito Music Publishing, 91480790, 2017), 16 pp., $3.00.

Dan Locklair has emerged as one of the most significant American composers of church music in recent years, and it is on the strength of anthems such as this that he has earned this reputation. The organ introduction is redolent of early Locklair organ works like “The Peace may be exchanged” from Rubrics and “…beside the still waters” from Windows of Comfort. Rather than residing solely within this one musical vein, however, the anthem blossoms with a sophistication and variegation beyond the scope of these earlier character pieces. While the rhythmic motion is dominated by quarter-note beats, intermittent appearances of 3/8 measures interrupt the pacing, preventing the work from ever plodding. Similarly, Locklair explores a variety of tonal centers, moving smoothly from one key area to another. Locklair harnesses this rhythmic and harmonic flexibility to evocatively illuminate the sweeping phrases of Edmund Sears’s Christmas carol. Sears, a nineteenth-century Unitarian minister, is most remembered as the author of It Came upon the Midnight Clear. Both poems share an epic tone, while avoiding any Romantic-era grandiose overstatement. Locklair’s anthem matches the nobility of the poetry with gestures that are at turns intimate, then majestic. Throughout, he makes use of the full resources of the organ as an equal partner in painting the text. One passage even calls for a harp stop “when available” to undergird voices (the piece was, after all, written for Locklair’s home parish of St. Paul’s in Winston-Salem, with its famous E. M. Skinner organ). The anthem concludes in a surprising harmonic destination with a soprano solo, the composer’s written preference for a boy soprano placed antiphonally to the full choir, and organ cadencing in a rich A-flat major.

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