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Interview with Jeffrey Honoré

Composer Jeffrey Honoré is releasing a new handbell piece with CPH in 2018: “Meditation on ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns.’” We sat down with Jeffrey to learn more about the piece, his background, and how he got into the composing world.

Where did you grow up, and where do you serve now?

I grew up at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin—home of the Danish kringle! After attending college and teaching high school choral music in Ripon, Wisconsin, my wife and I took a shared position at St. Anthony of Padua in Milwaukee, where we raised our three sons teaching in the school and working the weekend liturgies. Today I continue to work for the church as mission director of music at Holy Apostles in New Berlin, Wisconsin.

When did you start composing for handbells?

Throughout the early years, I started a graded bell program and learned to write for various levels and abilities, always eyeing creative use within each group. As the bell world grew in wisdom and understanding, I strived to keep up and enjoyed offering another view to what bells could add to the liturgy as well as innovative writing for hymn tunes and anthems.

In 1992, I received a letter from Dr. John Behnke at Concordia in Mequon, Wisconsin. Long story short, John writes to me via US mail, “If this is the Jeffrey Honoré I know through published handbell music, please read on. If not, please disregard this letter.” What a great start to a friendship that has lasted to this day!

I had tried to get other publishers interested in publishing arrangements of handbell music of their most popular titles, including Joncas’s “On Eagle’s Wings,” with very little interest at the time. In John’s first letter, I was offered to write “On Eagle’s Wings”! I couldn’t believe the paper in my hands. I had left handbell work to move to Arizona for liturgy and other musical endeavors. The handbell world drew me back in.

What’s unique about composing for handbells?

Our unique percussion instruments can add melodic and rhythmic interest by the many ways to ring a bell. This has offered composers a myriad of opportunities to introduce new techniques and sound palettes available to color an arrangement or composition from many perspectives. I so enjoy playing with the natural effects bells have, like simple ringing and legato lines, to the more intricate percussive effects, like mallets and stopped techniques.

What made you want to compose your new piece: “Meditation on ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns’”?

“Crown Him with Many Crowns” came about when I discovered a verse not often found in our hymnals but still found in the inner verses about love and life. This verse about peace struck an inner quiet chord; the 2018 catalog offering is a setting of this verse:

Crown Him the Lord of peace,
   Whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease,
   And all be prayer and praise.
   His reign shall know no end,
   And round His pierced feet
Fair flowers of glory now extend
   Their fragrance ever sweet.

Thus, the quiet, still, yearning prayer for the peace that passes all understanding is offered in this composition.

What occasions or holidays might this piece be a good selection for?

The Easter season of fifty days offers many times this hymn may be played. This short work can be used during these festive days for times of introspection and deep stillness or quiet.

Do you have any advice for music directors as they select handbell pieces and guide their choirs in song?

When deciding what to write, I consider what music is known and loved in my community and what I may wish to teach or offer as a new song. The bells help provide another way to hear and pray the texts we sing, and the spirit of our celebrations is enhanced by their presence.

Get notified when “Meditation on ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns’” and the other 2018 new releases are available.

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Written by

Peter Reske

Peter C. Reske, senior editor of music/worship at Concordia Publishing House, holds degrees in English literature and historical musicology from Marquette University and The Pennsylvania State University. He was the editor of Lutheran Service Book and its attendant resources.


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