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Chicagoland Composer's Day!

Today is an exciting day as we begin to explore all of the amazing composers who have a Chicago-land connection and who contributed richly to our musical traditions. This past February, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Dilworth at Roosevelt University Chicago College of Performing Arts’ choral concert celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King. After watching him work with my choir, I quickly became a fan. His knowledge of style of many eras of music is astounding and encyclopedic. His talent as a composer and conductor was readily evident and my students learned so much. One of his goals is to make sure that the music he grew up with stays vibrant and current. I truly hope you enjoy the two pieces we are singing today. They truly show his musical abilities and flexibilities. Thank you, Dr. Dilworth!

Mark Crayton

Offertory Anthem: “I Sing because I’m Happy” arr. Rollo Dilworth (b. 1970)

Below are several quotes from histories around this hymn:

"His Eye Is on the Sparrow" is a Gospel hymn. The song was written in 1905 by lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel. It is most associated with actress-singer Ethel Waters who used the title for her autobiography. Mahalia Jackson's recording of the song was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2010.

“His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Apr. 2018,

Marriages tend to work especially well when husband and wife have shared interests—and even more so if their shared interests have a creative bent. That was the case for Walter Stillman Martin (1862-1935) and his wife, Civilla (1866-1948). They had been drawn to each other, in large measure, because of their shared interest in music and their shared faith. That turned out to be a blessing for the church, because the Martins wrote a number of hymns, some of which became quite well known. “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” is one of those. “God Will Take Care of You” is another. Civilla wrote the words, and Walter set her words to music. Jesus’ words provide the background for this hymn. He said: “Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Not one of them falls on the ground apart from your Father’s will, but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31) But the immediate inspiration came from a woman with a chronic illness. Civilla visited her, and was struck by the difficulties that were such a regular part of the woman’s life. Civilla asked her if she ever got discouraged. The woman responded with a question of her own, “How could I be discouraged?” She said that she knew that God loves every sparrow, and felt certain that God loved her—and would take care of her. Inspired by the woman’s faith, Civilla went home and wrote this song. Before researching this song, I had always assumed that it was an African-American spiritual—and was surprised to learn otherwise. I made that assumption, because Ethel Waters, an African-American woman, sang this song in a number of Billy Graham’s crusades. Her spirited rendition touched people’s hearts, and I grew up listening to her sing it. This song has also become a staple of African-American worship.

Donovan, Richard Neill. “Hymn Story: His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” Hymn Story: His Eye Is on the Sparrow, 2014,

More than 150 of Rollo Dilworth's choral compositions and arrangements have been published—many of which are a part of the Henry Leck Creating Artistry Choral Series with Hal Leonard Corporation. Additional publications can be found in the catalogs of Santa Barbara Music Publishing and Colla Voce Music, Inc. Dilworth is a contributing author for the Essential Elements for Choir and the Experiencing Choral Music textbook series, both published by the Hal Leonard Corporation / Glencoe/McGraw-Hill Publications, and for Music Express! Teachers Magazine. He has authored 3 books of choral warm up exercises intended for elementary and secondary choral ensembles, entitled Choir Builders: Fundamental Vocal Techniques for General and Classroom Use (2006); Choir Builders for Growing Voices (2009); and Choir Builders for Growing Voices 2 (2014). A frequent presenter at local, state, regional and national conferences, Dilworth has conducted 43 all-state choirs at various levels (elementary, middle school, high school), and has conducted 6 regional honor choirs and 4 national honor choirs (ADCA, OAKE and NafME). He has most recently appeared as guest conductor for international choral festivals and master classes in Australia, Canada, Taiwan, Ireland, and China. Dilworth is currently National Board Chair for Chorus America. He is an active life member of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). He also holds memberships with several other organizations, including the National Association for Music Education (NafME), the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM) and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). In 2017, he received the Temple University Faculty Award for Research and Creative Achievement. He holds a Doctor of Music degree in Conducting Performance at Northwestern University and also holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Case Western Reserve University and the University of Missouri ­ St. Louis respectively. While in Chicago, he served as Minister of Music at Martin Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Chicago, Illinois. Dilworth was born in 1970 in St. Louis, Missouri. Dilworth was the Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities and Music Education at the North Park University School of Music in Chicago, Illinois for many years before he became the Chair of the departments of Music Education and Music Therapy as well as Professor of Choral Music Education. He also served as director of the Music Institute of Chicago Children's Choir. In 2003, North Park University awarded Dilworth with the prestigious Zenos Hawkinson Award for Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership.

“Boyer College of Music and Dance.” Rollo Dilworth,

“Rollo Dilworth.”,

Communion Anthem: “The Gift to Be Free” arr. Rollo Dilworth (b. 1970)

From the website “American Music:

One of the most enduring of American religious songs is "Simple Gifts." This Shaker song has been sung almost everywhere. The Copland arrangement of "Simple Gifts" is especially popular. It has been sung at two Presidential Inaugurations: by Jessye Norman for Ronald Reagan's in 1985 and by Marilyn Horne for Bill Clinton's in 1993. In 1996, the Music Educators National Conference named "Simple Gifts" as one of the forty-two songs that every American should know, yet many American specialists still don't know the origin of this famous song. Certainly Aaron Copland didn't when he came across the tune and used it so effectively in two of his major works: the ballet Appalachian Spring (1944) and Old American Songs, First Set (1950). Who then actually wrote this Shaker song? Joseph Brackett, Jr. was born in Cumberland, Maine, in 6 May 1797. His birth name Elisha was changed to his father's first name after the family joined the Shaker community in Gorham, Maine. His father's farm property formed the nucleus of this new Shaker community. In 1819, Joseph Sr. and the other Shakers moved to Poland Hill, Maine, where he remained until his death on 27 July 1838. Joseph Jr. served as first minister of the Maine Shaker societies, as well as Church Elder at New Gloucester, now known as Sabbathday Lake, until his death on 4 July 1882.1 His portrait has hung for many years in the music room of the Central Brick Dwelling at Sabbathday Lake, where the remaining few Shakers still operate a farm and museum. Because he was primarily involved with church leadership, Brackett didn't compose many tunes. Two, however, have become known in our century, thanks to modern arrangements. "The True Vine," composed at New Gloucester, Maine, in 1856, was first arranged by Conrad Held and appeared in his collection, Fifteen Shaker Songs (G. Schirmer, 1944). "Simple Gifts" was very popular among the Shaker communities and was copied in over a dozen of their music manuscript volumes. The evidence in these manuscripts indicates that the tune was most likely composed during the early summer (possibly in June) of 1848 at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine. The Shakers had three basic categories of choral music: anthem, hymn, and song. "Simple Gifts" has often been incorrectly classified as a hymn. Aaron Copland didn't have any of this information when he chose the tune for his ballet score. As he stated in 1980, he chose the Shaker song only because he as "particularly fond of it [the melody]," not for its historical significance or textual content. He found the song in Edward Deming Andrews's The Gift to be Simple Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers in a public library near Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His appealing variations on "Simple Gifts" in Appalachian Spring have since helped to spread the Shaker song worldwide. Four years later, he set the song again in his Old American Songs, for voice and piano. The five songs in this set were first recorded by tenor Peter Pears, with piano accompaniment by the distinguished composer and friend of Copland, Benjamin Britten.4 The songs were transcribed for chorus by composer Irving Fine in 1952. Over the years, other arrangements of this Shaker song have been made. A completely new song based on the Shaker tune, titled "Lord of the Dance," was published in 1963, with five stanzas of text written by English poet and songwriter Sydney Carter. Although Carter had admitted using the Shaker tune as the basis for his arrangement, Michael Flatley, in his recent dance extravaganza of the same name, credits only Roman Hardiman. It is timely that on the bicentennial of Joseph Brackett's birth, we remember him for his famous song. The opening words convey his message so directly: 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'Tis the gift to be free, 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight. Such a message seems to speak to those looking for a simpler way of life in our hectic, high-tech world, but this song was really intended to accompany the vigorous dance movement that the Shakers called "laboring," or a religious "exercise." Even though Brackett's song may be quaintly worded, it wasn't meant to be sung as a lethargic lullaby as heard sometimes these days. His "Simple Gifts" was made for some "delight," with Shakers dancing with great gusto, till they turned "round right."

Hall, Roger L. “Sonneck Society for American Music.” Joseph Brackett's Simple Gifts, 19 Sept. 2012,

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