Musical Notes ♫♬ (Archive)

Back in 2002 I competed in an organ competition hosted by the American Guild of Organists and I made it to the finals for the Northwest region.  There was a set list of required pieces that I had to present and one of the pieces included a work by Dale Wood, specifically commissioned for this event.  It was wild, glorious, satisfying to learn, and certainly one of the most difficult things I had worked on (not even sure I could dust it off now!) In my research this week I discovered that Wood died a few years after that event and how deep his ties were with the Lutheran church!

                Dale Wood was born in 1934 in California, of Finnish-Polish parentage (his father's last name was Wojtkiewiecz, which immigration authorities shortened to Wood).  Raised a Lutheran, his career as a composer was launched at age 13 when he won a national hymn-writing competition for the American Lutheran Church. His first choral anthem was accepted for publication one year later. His knowledge of music was immense, and his appreciation ran the gamut from classical to the Broadway stage. Although he attended Occidental College, he never received a college degree. In the words of his second wife, Gloria, "No, the boy didn't need any degree. He fell out of the nest with all he needed."

                Wood's musical activities were not limited to sacred music. While still a college student, he entertained as organist at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles and appeared on television shows produced in Hollywood. In 1975 he was employed by the Royal Viking Line to entertain passengers on a 70-day cruise of the South Pacific and Orient.

                Wood published more than 125 settings for solo organ, each full of his characteristically beautiful harmonies, modulations, romance, wit, and humor. In his own themes as well as in his arrangements, he draws from such disparate sources as early American hymns, Victorian hymns, contemporary hymns, gospel songs, spirituals, international folk tunes, Gregorian chant, and baroque chorales. In his settings modal tunes from the Old World take on new life; some of his original melodies sound uncannily like ancient folk tunes.   The following tempo markings found in Dale's scores are descriptive of the wide range of moods in his music: with great calm; animated; expressively; with sturdy motion, flowing gently; with vigor; freely; joyfully; gently; spirited; simply; stately; with great warmth; boldly; with ease; tenderly; with sparkle; flowing smoothly. The signature Dale Wood sound is warm and romantic, with colorful harmonies and the melody always prominent.

                Wood was known for sending notes to musicians that were both witty and genuinely appreciative.  A friend received a copy of his hymn "Let Us Break Bread Together," and with the short note: "Are you familiar with the enclosed 'creampuff'? You can milk it to death. Awfully easy, but there are times when simplicity has a great deal to say."  Other notes included:  "You are ever so kind to read through this collection of overripe harmonies!";  "If your supply is running low, here's more paper for the bottom of your bird cage."  "My deepest thanks for your continued encouragement and especially your high regard for a good old tune that speaks to the people."

                Because most of his works were on sacred themes, people often asked about his faith.  When he passed his second wife responded to this question: "He was raised in a family of ministers and missionaries, so he was a walking theological encyclopedia. This I know--Dale believed in God and trusted that his soul and spirit were going back to the Source--however one defines that. He was in no way fearful of dying and said he was at peace with what lay ahead for him. His life's work speaks volumes as to the inner workings of Dale's heart. His spiritual beliefs are in every melody and chord progression. Simply put, Dale was a Believer, and as he would phrase it: "'Nuff said!"

 Gretchen Mundinger

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  • Jeremiah 29:24-32

    28For he has actually sent to us in Babylon, saying, "It will be a long time; build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat what they produce." 29The priest Zephaniah read this letter in the hearing of the prophet Jeremiah.

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