In the wonder and joy of the Christmas season, music can be especially helpful in setting the tone for worship. In her new collection Repeat the Sounding Joy: Five Christmas Tunes for Trumpet and Organ, CPH composer Sondra Tucker uses different organ colors and the clear call of trumpets to remind listeners of the joy of Christ’s birth. Learn from Sondra herself about the collection, how your church can make use of it, and some special moments to listen for in the pieces.
Tell us about your journey as a musician.
I grew up in a typical small town. I took piano lessons and was in choir and band in high school. My mother was the organist at our little church. I wanted to be a symphony flutist when I grew up, and though I still love the symphonic repertoire, I actually ended up getting a master’s degree in sacred music and organ and have had a marvelously varied and rewarding career in church music.
How did you get started composing?
I started arranging little flute quartets for my friends and choral responses for my choirs, and then around 1990, our church got a set of handbells, but we didn’t have any money for sheet music. I looked at the samples that came with the bells and thought, “I can write that.”
I had a dozen or so little songs in a drawer when I saw an ad in a denominational magazine soliciting compositions, and with trepidation I sent mine in, and they were accepted. That was really the start of my composing career. I think being a flutist as well as an organist gives me a perspective on how to write for wind instruments—what works and is playable.
What inspired you to put together the compositions in Repeat the Sounding Joy?
My son Ben is a fine trumpeter, and I wrote these arrangements for us to perform together. We first performed several of these titles during a Christmas recital at a church I was serving in Houston at the time. The organ there was a two-manual, 18-rank mechanical action instrument with no pistons. So out of necessity, these organ parts don’t require a lot of fiddly registration changes.
Do you have any tips for organists and trumpet players as they practice these pieces?
Balance is at the forefront. The trick is for the organ to capture the mood of the piece with the registration, while supporting the trumpet without overpowering it. The registrations are general suggestions, but of course each instrument and room is unique, so don’t be afraid to try out different sounds. The trumpet should play with a refined sound, with no brassy edge.
What are some of your favorite moments in each piece?
One of our family traditions each Christmas Eve morning is to listen to the radio broadcast of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College in Cambridge. In my setting of “Once in Royal David’s City,” I tried to replicate the hymn’s small beginning with a single chorister’s voice, and how it grows over the course of the singing to a grand, triumphant paean. My organ and trumpet setting looks rather plain on the page, but with each registration increase, the intensity pulls the piece into grander and grander sounds. The trumpet entrance to the final stanza is the culmination of it all, and I love it.
“What Child Is This” is meditative and has some beautiful crunchy harmonies. It is sort of minimalist in its outlook and utilizes the trumpet’s lower, sonorous range. It could also be played on flugelhorn, as could “What Is This Lovely Fragrance.” Then there’s “Gigue on ‘Joy to the World,’” which combines the cherished hymn with a trumpet sonata by Corelli. It has lots of notes for both players, but it is super fun to play and would make a great Christmas postlude.
I hope churches find these pieces useful, whether they select an up-tempo piece or a reflective one!