The Choral Music of Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory

Composers' Statement

For two guys who never intended to be composers - or even longtime collaborators - the very premise of this website is ultimately surprising. Originally, our work together was rooted in our roles as conductors of youth ensembles. We met in the early nineties while working with a community chorus in Grand Rapids. We started out writing things for our kids. We had no expectation of getting published nor did we imagine that anyone else would want to perform our music. Go Where I Send Thee was our first piece. Its inspiration was simple: we couldn’t find a closing number for our Christmas concert. So we decided to write one. Hope for Resolution soon followed. Both pieces were experiments. We brought ideas into rehearsal, tried them out with the kids, kept what worked, and threw away a lot of stuff that didn’t. Initially, we didn’t even write it down.

Once Go Where I Send Thee and Hope for Resolution were published by Earthsongs (1995 and 1996), they quickly became staples of the choral repertoire. We were…oblivious. Honestly. We just didn’t see ourselves as composers. Our music appeared on the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas with Robert Shaw concerts in 1997. Performances by major conductors at Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls came and went. It never occurred to us to attend.

That changed in 2001 with our first commission, from Pearl Shangkuan and the Calvin College Alumni Choir. Through a competitive, juried process, they were selected to present a concert for the American Choral Director’s Association. They wanted a new piece. And Pearl made it quite clear that she expected us at the premiere. So John the Revelator was born.

Today, we work in different cities. Email and a computer-based music notation program allow our collaborations to continue. How do two people write the same piece? When people ask us this, we look at each other and shrug. We aren’t quite sure. We send each other our innermost musical thoughts…along with an invitation to sift through and critique them with wrenching honesty. Like brothers, we butt heads over what works and what doesn’t. But in the end, we trust each other enough to be gut-scary vulnerable. And we have learned to be grateful - not hurt - when one of us tells the other, “no way.” The freedom to hear “no” from a partner is a beautiful thing. It makes the “yes” infinitely more meaningful.

Almost invariably, our choral pieces are based on musical fragments from cultures worldwide - tunes and stories which show us where we’ve been in the labyrinth of history. We find things that matter to us, things that show us the world’s brightest and darkest days, things we believe should never be forgotten. We examine these tunes and stories carefully, turning them upside down and inside out. These are the threads we use to weave our musical fabrics.

Maybe our compositions are tapestries. Maybe they are snapshots of history. Often, they remind us of places we wish we had never gone, places to which we should never return. Sometimes they tell great stories, celebrating humanity’s finest moments. Either way, they recall the things that shaped the world we know today. Whether harrowing or hopeful, these are the songs that make up our collective journey. And an amazing journey it is. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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