The Morningside College Concert Choir

IT IS A LOVELY morning under the pines, the sun rising over the Father of Waters. I wanted to share with you one of the most beautiful pieces of choral music I know of. But I am biased. Very. It is an old recording, and there is a bit of tape hiss, although after a few moments you can ignore it. The choir Is being conducted by me, but it is not my composition. The deeply poignant hymn is by my dad, Dr. James H. Wood, and it is his choir, the Morningside College Concert Choir, that I am conducting, circa 1972. I am the Assistant/Student Conductor.

There is more to the back story. The lyrics were composed by Reginald Heber, he of the great hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” in the early 19th century. He wrote it after the death of his infant daughter, and my dad added the beautiful melody and arrangement after my mother had a miscarriage and lost a brother I never knew. But the song is for anyone who has ever known loss or grief—perhaps most deeply felt at this season—and though sad, is enormously comforting. When my dad asked which number of our choir repertoire I would like to conduct in concert, I unhesitatingly chose this one, though at the time I did not know of the deeply personal connection.

There is more. I went to my dad some time before our big choir tour and said I thought the piece could be ‘improved’ by adding a solo near the end. “How about having Kathy Sokolowski sing it?” I asked. I had an ulterior motive. For 3 years I had admired this beautiful soprano hopelessly from a distance. The day before we left for tour, I finally told her of my feelings. Miraculously, she responded. On tour, we began ‘going together,’ and a year later, just after graduation, we were married. As you might guess, Dad had agreed to my suggestion, and you will hear Kathy’s solo here.

Finally, many years later, as Dad was listening to his recordings, he called to tell me, ”Douglas, I just listened to that performance, and I wanted to tell you… that is the most sensitive, beautiful version of the piece we ever did. I could never have conducted it as well.” From a man who was not free with compliments, it was a wonderful, emotional moment and it meant a great deal. I’ve never forgotten.

So here is the most beautiful piece of choral music that I know. My favorite of all my dad’s compositions. The Morningside College Concert Choir singing “Elegy”, by Dr. James Wood. (It begins softly. Please give the old recording plenty of volume to achieve the full effect.)

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