Locklair: Performing Angels

“From the first time I heard the sound of the organ, I loved it!”

Locklair performs on the Williams Organ located in Wake Forest University’s Wait Chapel

On September 14, Dan Locklair performs his new work Angels (Two Tone Poems for Organ) in Piedmont, NC, as part of the fall 2019 opening session of the North Carolina Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO). The concert also features the composer performing his celebrated organ work Rubrics, as part its 30th anniversary celebration.

Angels — a six-minute, two-movement work — was commissioned by the AGO and was premiered by Alan Morrison on July 1, 2019 as a highlight of the AGO Mid-Atlantic Convention in southern New Jersey. Locklair describes Angels as “a reflection of a 19th-century ‘tone poem’.” Both movements – “Angels of Tranquility” and “Angels of Joy” – may be played together as a short suite or performed separately, and are inspired by excepts from The Book of Psalms.

Q &A with Dan Locklair:

S: How old were you when you learned to play the organ?

Locklair: Although I keenly remember beginning piano studies at age six and trombone at age ten, I honestly can’t remember the exact age of my first organ lesson. But the church in which I grew up had an active choir program (in which I participated) and a beautiful two-manual pipe organ. The organist of the church was also my first piano teacher and, since a solid piano background is fundamental for success in organ, I was fortunate. She asked me to play hymns on the organ’s chimes before her prelude each Sunday. Those were my first public performances as an organist. I secured my first professional post at age 14, and studied the instrument throughout my undergraduate and graduate years.

S: When did you decide to be a composer?

Locklair: In my undergraduate years, I did a great deal as a pianist, especially as an accompanist. I also continued to hold church music positions, conducted (mainly choral music), performed professional gigs as a trombonist, and composed. At some point, it occurred to me that, if I was going to achieve a quality career in music, I needed to focus. Composition primarily became my first choice, with organ and conducting not far behind.

S: How do you feel about composing for the organ?

Locklair: The organ is a complex instrument with a rich history, and I feel fortunate to have the understanding of it that I do. Many who haven’t played the instrument are, understandably, baffled by it. If it isn’t your instrument, the challenge of composing for the organ is how to write for it. However, if, the organ is your instrument, the challenge then [becomes] how to compose for it in a fresh, new way, and not just reflective of older, proven techniques.

S:  How do you feel about performing, especially when playing your own music?

Locklair: As a composer, you learn a great deal when you conduct or perform your own works. As both a full-time professional composer and a full-time university professor, my time is limited for performing. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day! But, as for performing my own music, composing a piece and performing it are two different things. I always try out passages, sections and whole pieces that I compose. But, that hardly qualifies as learning the piece to performance level. When I go about learning one of my own compositions, I diligently learn them just as I would an organ work by Bach, Mendelssohn or Messiaen. That includes cursing the composer over especially tricky spots!


More Locklair news: In August, Naxos American Classics released the premiere recording of the composer’s Symphony No. 2 “America,” performed by the Slovak National Symphony. The all-Locklair disc also features Hail the Coming Day, Concerto for Organ and Orchestra, and PHOENIX for orchestra. Conductors include Kirk Trevor and Michael Roháč, joined by organ soloist Peter Mikula. Records International notes: “Locklair’s conservative yet appealing idiom, an offshoot of the tonal American symphonic tradition, with an emphasis on the celebratory and uplifting, is shown to good advantage in these attractive works…” Read the complete review here.