Nick Page CCMC ChoralNet Composer of the Month, January 2012
Date: January 16, 2012
The CCMC ChoralNet Composer of the Month for January 2012 is Nick Page. Special thanks to Julie Myers for editing this blog series.
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For those of us in music education, Nick Page is an icon of the multicultural movement. As I read through his bio, I was struck by the people he has chosen as career models. Ysave Maria Barnwell, Alice Parker, Keith Hampton and Joseph Shabalala have all had an impact on his life and musicianship.
Dr. Barnwell is a longtime member of Sweet Honey in the Rock, a women’s a cappella ensemble that performs repertoire about civil rights, African American issues and other thoughtful human topics. Nick took summer workshops with her and said those experiences were life changing. He described her ability to take a group of people, many of whom had never sung in a choir, and turn them into an amazing ensemble. Nick is a believer that singing is for everyone, not just for those who do it best. These workshops helped to solidify that belief. Nick went on to hire Dr. Barnwell to work with his choir and commissioned a work from her.
More recently, a similar experience affirmed Nick’s beliefs about the power of singing. The chorus Joyful Noise is a choir of people with intellectual and physical disabilities from southern New Jersey and Delaware (They have a community on ChoralNet). The power of unchecked emotion really makes this group shine. Nick composed “You Have a Heart” for them (soon to be published by Earthsongs #S-357 ). Some of you may have seen it performed at the ACDA convention in Chicago last March. Here is a video of Joyful Noise singing a different Nick Page original, “A Promise I Will Keep” (Hal Leonard #08745514). The piece has sections of encouraged improvisation and is based on the Hippocratic Oath.
Alice Parker was another influence on Nick’s quest to get the world singing. Alice said “...song issuing from one human throat is the essential first-step to a musical life.” Following Parker’s path, Nick makes a good portion of his living from being a song leader for workshops, conventions and religious organizations. Details are on his website.
In the early 1980s, Nick migrated from the East coast to the Midwest, landing a job as one of the conductors of the 600-voice Chicago Children’s Choir. Experiences with this fine ensemble further influenced his style. One of the other directors at the time was gospel composer Keith Hampton. During his time with the choir, Nick’s spirit was filled with the powerful and stirring emotions Dr. Hampton brought out in the singers. In Chicago, Nick also observed the late Max Janowski. Janowski was an influential music teacher, cantor, director and composer of Jewish liturgical music. His music has been characterized as being encouraging of congregational singing.
Nick studied the Mbube choral style of South Africa with Joseph Shabalala. Mbube (Zulu for “lion”) has had a huge influence on world music. Mbube is closely related to a traditional diamond miners' musical style called isicathamaya, which I have heard translated as “Sneaky Feet Singing.” In addition to having one of the most musical last names in history, Joseph Shabalala is the founder and leader of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, an ensemble that sings in isicathamaya style. Nick had the opportunity to transcribe an arrangement of “N’kosi Sikelel’i Afrika” by Shabalala and review it with him. Nick used that transcription as the basis for his edition, available in SATB and SA from World Music Press (203-748-1131 ). See the video below:
Nick received a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and a Masters in Education from Lesley College. So what happened to take a man who could have had a wonderful career in strict classical music and set him on the path to be accepting of singing by ordinary people from all over the world? For the answer we need to start with Nick’s childhood.
Nick Page grew up in a singing household. The sounds of his family singing folk songs and playing records filled his early years with music. His family had an eclectic listening pallet. Nick’s favorite childhood favorites included Beethoven, The Weavers, and Babatunde Olatunji. For an American family in the late 1950s to be listening to Babatunde Olatunji as a matter of course is quite incredible. Although he was classically trained on string bass and in composition, Nick frequently played in folk, jazz, and bluegrass ensembles. These diverse experiences helped to create his voracious appetite for music that was outside the mainstream. Nick also studied ethnomusicology with David Locke at Tufts University.
Nick’s compositional style is varied with influences from classical, jazz, folk and world musics. Composer and CCMC member Lee Kesselman has worked with Mr. Page many times. He had this to say about Nick’s style:
Nick’s omni-cultural efforts have resulted in many choral gems. I am particularly drawn to his arrangement of Niška Banja for SSAA and piano for four hands, available from Boosey and Hawkes #OCTB6517. It is a song of power for women’s ensembles. See the video below:
I saw Nick at a music teacher’s convention in Wisconsin in the early 1990s. At the time, multicultural music was not at all accepted by mainstream classical musicians or most music teachers. I had a very hard time finding any resources from anywhere outside of Europe, but there was Nick, with a fistful of great repertoire that I still use as a staple in my children’s and adult choirs. He is a man of vision and was at the vanguard of multicultural music education. Nick has included raga form, salsa, Yiddish dance, English madrigals, black gospel, barbershop quartet, sea shanties, and various forms of jazz in his works. Nick has written three books, all of which have received excellent reviews and look to be treasure troves for those who wish to teach multicultural music to their choirs and students. The books are: Sing and Shine On, Music as a Way of Knowing and The Nick Page Sing With Us Songbook.
His website gives lists of his works and links to online media examples. It may also be worthwhile for composers to check out the quotes about his works that Nick uses as advertising endorsements. There is a section titled the Choral Family Newsletter which is an incredible resource. Composers may find the article “Composing from a Cultural Perspective” particularly interesting and useful. For music educators, the resource list is the best I’ve seen.