JANUARY 11-14, 2024 – On Thursday, January 11, delegates and faculty made their way to the Central Territorial Headquarters in Chicago for the 2024 North American Composers Forum. This event is held every few years and is a partnership of the four US Territories and the Canada and Bermuda Territory. The faculty was comprised of seasoned composers, arrangers, and songwriters as well as special guests for the weekend, Andrew Blyth (Head of Music Editorial, UK Territory) and renowned composer Peter Graham.
After dinner and a welcome and introduction, delegates and faculty got straight to work. One of the key elements of the forum is the tutorial time. Throughout the weekend, each of the composer delegates had three, 50-minute tutorials. These are one-on-one times with assigned faculty where they can present compositions they have been working on and receive feedback and encouragement. After these sessions, the delegates also have some personal time to make corrections / adjustments to their work based on this feedback.
The end of each day included a devotional time entitled “From the Composer’s Heart”. Each evening a selected faculty member shared devotional based on a particular piece or song that they had written. On Thursday, Marcus Venables shared about his piece, “Our Consecration” based on the song, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”. On Friday, Nick Simmons-Smith shared some of his testimony and the journey that led to writing the piece “Songs of Hope” which features the beautiful song by Joy Webb, there will be God. Saturday night, Phil Laeger again shared his testimony along with the song “For My Heart”.
On Friday morning, delegates were greeted with 5 inches of snow (with more to come during the day) and braved the elements to travel the ½ mile from the hotel to THQ. The day opened with a united session and the chance to hear from one of the special guests for the weekend, Andrew Blyth. Andrew spoke on the history of the Salvation Army’s Music Editorial department and its mission, to produce music for the church that would “equip” and “empower”. The day featured a Brass Reading Sessions, where the composer’s who had submitted compositions for smaller ensembles, (Unity, AIES, ABJ) could hear their pieces played by members of the Chicago Staff Band. Composers also received feedback about these pieces from a panel (Peter Graham, Steve Kellner & Kevin Larsson). Two breakout sessions were also held. The delegates could choose to learn about: How To Write For Small Ensembles (William Himes and Nick Simmons-Smith) or Writing Effective Piano Accompaniments (Rachel Ewing) in the first session and Typesetting 101 (Michael Stayner) or Intro Into Choral Music (Dr. Harold Burgmayer) in the second session.
Working in parallel with the composer’s track was the songwriter’s track. Over the course of the weekend, those in the Songwriters track had group sessions on a number of topics including: Why Write Songs (Phil Laeger), Salvation Worship (Simon Gough), Lyric Writing (Phil Laeger) and Harmony and Theory in Songwriting (Victor Morales).
The songwriting delegates also had opportunities to have one-on-one tutorial time with faculty as well as time to share their songs with the those in attendance. The songwriters were also placed in co-writing groups. These groups had time over the weekend to collaborate on lyrics and music for new songs, which were presented towards the end of the forum.
Saturday morning, the whole group gathered to hear from Peter Graham. He titled his session “Masters of Suspense” and took the group through some of his early works and their inspiration, up to some of his most recent works.
The schedule for the day included the last of the tutorial times, but also two more brass reading sessions and a choral reading session. The full Chicago Staff Band was on duty to play pieces written for full band and the composers were once again given feedback from the panels (Peter Graham, William Himes, Andrew Blyth, Steve Bulla & Marcus Venables). CSB members and some other Salvationists from the Chicago area, came together to form a chorus to read through the choral compositions, with feedback once again from a panel (Andrew Blyth, Dr Harold Burgmayer & Gavin Whitehouse).
Saturday night the group went to Pinstripes for dinner and good conversations around the table followed by a little 10 pin bowling.
On Sunday morning, the sun came out and the outside temperature was bitterly cold, but the final worship was warm. Worship in song was led by Simon Gough before a time of testimony. Laura Rowsell led those gathered in her beautiful song of dedication, “Take My Life (I Am Yours). Bill Himes brought a message from Romans 12 before the THQ chapel was full of prayer as delegates and faculty prayed over each other.