October 10, 2003
When Ed Christman retired in July after more than fifty years as University Chaplain, the tributes were plentiful, as were the stories from those for whom he was an inspiration. But Christman perhaps never anticipated that the occasion of his retirement would be the source of another inspiration—this one in the form of an original piece of music, written in his honor by Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music Dan Locklair.
Such a singular commemoration of Christman’s service to the campus community was commissioned by Mary Ann Hampton Taylor (’56), former director of the Student Health Service, and her husband Gerald Taylor (’58), a retired dentist. She had known Christman when they were students and worked closely with him during their years together in the Division of Student Life. The decision to honor him in a musical way was a simple but profound middle-of-the-night epiphany for Mary Ann, said the Taylors. Locklair, a prolific and award-winning composer who couldn’t have closer Wake Forest ties, was their obvious choice to bring it to fruition. Although they didn’t know him personally, they were familiar with his work and his stature among American composers.
The Taylors wanted the work to reflect their admiration for Christman, his dedication to all things Wake Forest, and his compassion for all Wake Forest people.
The result is “O Sing to the Lord a New Song,” a setting of Christman’s favorite psalm, Psalm 96, in a composition for chorus and piano. The five-minute piece will receive its world premiere on December 4 at the Concert Choir’s Holiday Choral Concert under the direction of Brian Gorelick. That broadcast will be aired live on WFDD, 88.5 FM. A second performance will be held three days later, December 7, at the annual Love Feast in Wait Chapel, a service near and dear to Christman’s heart, said Locklair.
“I always encourage people who commission choral or vocal works to make suggestions of texts,” said Locklair, “and Mary Ann did just that. Choosing a good and effective text is always a challenge for a composer because a number of texts, even ones that read well, are not effective when set to music. When we discovered from Ed’s wife Jean that Psalm 96 was among his favorite texts, everything clicked. The Psalms, of course, were originally sung, and as a result, are among the most musical texts in the Bible.”
Locklair first met with the Taylors in February and completed the composition in April. “O Sing to the Lord a New Song” is a very personalized work, since all musical materials in it are based on Edgar Douglas Christman’s initials, EDC, said Locklair. “Reflective of the vibrant and energetic text, I hope that my setting of Psalm 96 captures not only the energy and vibrant praise of this Psalm, but also Ed’s own great spiritual and physical energy as well,” he said. “It was an honor to celebrate Ed’s rich legacy to Wake Forest in this way.”