LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, January 14, 2008

Timothy Michael Powell: Concert at Carnegie Hall

Dr. Timothy Michael Powell is an accomplished conductor and composer. He is the Director of Choral and Vocal Studies at Lee College and directs the Lee College Chorale and the Baytown Community Chorus. Dr. Powell holds a DMA in Conducting from the University of South Carolina and was the 1999 National Choristers Guild Scholar, a 2002-2003 Fulbright Scholar to Bulgaria, and a 2002 Fellow with the prestigious South Carolina Conductors Institute. He received both his Bachelors (cum laude) and his Masters degrees in Church Music from Belmont University.

He was the Rhodes College Conductor-in-Residence for the 2004-2005 Season and the Director of the Honors College Choir at the University of South Carolina from 2001-2002. His compositions include numerous major works, including his "Wedding Mass" which will be premiered in Carnegie Hall in June of 2008, and his opera "His Terrible Swift Sword" which was premiered in April of 2007. Go to
www.DCINY.org for more information about the concert.

Dr. Powell is an active clinician and scholar and holds memberships in the Pi Kappa Lambda Music Society, The Texas Music Educator's Association, and the American Choral Director's Association. He serves as the Director of Music at St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Houston, TX. Samples of his music can be heard at

LeAnne: On June 14, you'll be directing the world premiere of your Wedding Mass in Carnegie Hall. The concert is produced in collaboration with Distinguished Concerts International New York. How did this opportunity come about?

Tim: I've been to Carnegie a number of times as a singer and participant in similar concerts and during the course of the last couple of years developed a relationship with Iris Derke, who is the executive director of DCINY. We sat down in Miami this year to discuss the possibility of me coming to Carnegie to conduct a festival concert. During our brainstorming we talked about a number of options for the concert, and I mentioned that I had a major choral work that I thought would be a great match for Carnegie. She asked me to send along a copy of the music and a recording, and I got a call a couple of weeks later from Jonathan Griffith, who is the artistic director, inviting me to premiere the piece. We decided to expand the accompaniment for full orchestra for the premiere performance (it was performed first in the spring of 2005 in a chamber orchestra setting for a small crowd in Memphis). It was a great honor to be invited to such a wonderful and historic venue!

LM: What inspired you to write your Wedding Mass? Tell me about your composing process.

The melodic basis for the piece actually comes from a song I wrote about 9 years ago about an afternoon that I spent with my sister at the beach. When she told me she was getting married, I turned the melody into a processional for piano and cello that she used when she walked down the aisle during the ceremony. When I was beginning the composition of the Wedding Mass, the melody seemed to fit the tripartite structure of the Kyrie ("Lord, Have Mercy") which is the opening prayer of the Catholic and Orthodox worship service. Once the Kyrie was in place, I began to work on the other movements. The Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God") came next, followed by the Gloria, Credo and Sanctus. The Mass was basically finished, but then I lost the manuscript for the Agnus Dei. It worked out well, however, because after September 11, 2001 I rewrote the movement from memory and made some important adjustments to the structure and melody. I think these changes more accurately reflect the inherent tension between repentance and forgiveness, darkness and light, and grief and catharsis that is present in the Agnus Dei prayer, "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us; grant us peace." I put the Mass away for some time, and then before my own wedding to my wife Jen in 2005, I wrote the middle movement "When Love is Found" using the beautiful hymn text by Brian Wren. When the Mass was sung for the first time in its chamber orchestra setting, I decided to include that movement. A choir of my closest friends also sang that movement during my wedding ceremony.

As for my compositional process, it really is different for every piece. I haven't settled on a specific process, mainly because I am not a full-time composer. In my day job, I'm a conductor and a department administrator, which means I have to squeeze out time to compose when I have free time. I'm also a bit "streaky", to use a baseball term. I compose in bursts, and then don't compose for long periods of time, sometimes months. I don't have an efficient system that allows me to crank out material on demand. My music tends to percolate, to languish on the piano, to get lost underneath huge piles of other work, and then to somehow work its way to the top in some kind of Darwinian process to emerge sometimes years later as a finished piece. In that sense, however, the editing process I have is exhaustive and always ongoing. The way that I approached my Mass was very different from the way I composed my opera, for instance, or the way I approach smaller works like motets, anthems, and songs. With the Mass, it developed over 5 years. The bulk of my opera, at least an hour's worth of music, was written in about 4 weeks. My most frequently performed motet, Mirabile Mysterium, was written in an hour but underwent at least a week's worth of revisions. If there is an over-arching inspirational process, it is certainly based on the text that I'm setting, which as far as I am concerned, should be the be-all and end-all of choral composition.

On Thursday, Tim Powell will talk about his song inspired by JRR Tolkien and his time in Bulgaria.


Anonymous said...

What a great interview. I work with Tim and am impressed so much by his commitment to music, students, and family. He's engaging and such a bright star. Thanks for giving readers insight into a diversely talented young leader.

Susan Cummings
Humanities Faculty
Lee College

Anonymous said...

Wow I never would have thought that mean boy that I had to put up with would turn into such an accomplished artist, husband, and father. Wonderful interview and I hope that New Places goes all the way to the top; it is now one of my favorit songs.

Best wishes,
Erica Powell Breedwell


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