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Kile Smith Recommends: The Welcome News - Choral Music of Carson Cooman

Carson Cooman writes music as naturally as anyone I’ve heard. The number of his works is already approaching 1,000 for this just barely 30 composer, and represents every form, even multiple symphonies and operas. In addition to composing he is an excellent organist who frequently performs new music, and between editing organ and hymn music he is Composer in Residence for The Memorial Church, Harvard University.

Forty recordings contain his music, including seventeen complete CDs. His newest, The Welcome News, brings together his most recent a cappella choral works, many of them sacred motets. The CD will be released in early July.

Cooman’s music has always been strongly rooted in the Anglican harmonic tradition of sweetness and lush phrasing, but The Welcome News probes further into rhythmic vigor and textural surprise. The Rochester, N.Y. native has lived in the Boston area for some time, and New England may explain delightful fuguing-tune and shape-note threads (“The Welcome News,” “Awake My Heart”) that add to the tapestry of his confident, optimistic music.

But the surprises are real, with modal corkscrews and leaps of melody and mood. The final work, “O Lord, I Will Sing of Your Love Forever,” is a substantial example. Commissioned by King’s Chapel, Boston, for its 325th anniversary, it’s in the model of a coronation anthem. Cooman sets texts from the Psalms, the Gospels, and Zechariah, ending with an Alleluia that is at once triumphant and introspective. Teasing between major and minor, he ends on a soft unison that is as glorious as any shout.

The effect is the opposite of vainglory but is instead all subtlety in its refusal to reach for effect. The naturalness of Carson Cooman’s writing is welcome news, indeed.