Nicholas Piper has two of the most disparate jobs you’re likely to find: by day, the licensed pilot instructs at a flight training school. By night, he composes liturgical music.
This past May, the 33-year-old Ottawa native’s choral anthem, commissioned as a gift to the church by the Anglican Foundation of Canada to mark its diamond anniversary, debuted to very positive response in a performance by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, under the direction of the cathedral’s organist and music director, Rupert Lang.
Based on the first two verses of Psalm 9, a grateful paean to God’s goodness, the choral work is scored for organ and soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices, and is designed to be readily mastered by community choirs.
The verses read: “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart / I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.”
“It’s about giving thanks to God, who makes all things possible,” says Canon Judy Rois, the Foundation’s executive director, who considered dozens of other texts before presenting Piper with two options before the final selection of Psalm 9.
And while it’s not beyond the capacity of parish choirs, the warm, melodic composition “stirs the emotions and transports listeners well beyond human experience, beyond words and thought, to a place of transcendence,” says Rois.
Early this year, Rois approached Piper, a composer, singer and organist and then-director of music at St. Margaret’s Church in Ottawa. Piper was recommended by Matthew Larkin, then-director of music at Ottawa’s Christ Church Cathedral (now of St.Thomas’s, Huron Street, Toronto) and the composer of an anthem commissioned for the Foundation’s 50th anniversary in 2007.
Supporting the composition and accessibility of sacred music is a central part of the Foundation’s mission.
Taking his lead from the text, Piper created a main musical motif based on the first few words. “The entire piece lasts about three minutes. It starts with the main theme, goes into an interlude, and then returns to the main theme,” he explains. “Overall, it’s in E flat major, with a few minor variations. It’s short enough to fit easily into the Anglican liturgy without disrupting the usual flow and it’s not too difficult for a choir used to singing in four parts.”
Piper holds music degrees in composition from Carleton University, Ottawa, and the University of Victoria. In 2010, “Locus Iste,” his graduating master’s composition from Victoria, won first prize in the SOCAN Awards for Young Composers.
Among other projects, Piper is currently working on settings for the canticles Nunc Dimittis and The Magnificat.
The Foundation is offering the anniversary anthem free of charge to Anglican parishes. Email: [email protected] or telephone 416-924-9199, ext. 322.
Listen to some of Piper’s other sacred compositions here.