Words Come First For This Choral Composer

May 19, 2017

A work by Timothy Takach -- left, with Cor Cantiamo director Eric Johnson -- was commissioned for the professional chamber choir and will be presented in a concert at 3 p.m. this Sunday in Rockford’s Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Credit Guy Stephens / WNIJ

Eric Johnson said there’s something about the music of Timothy Takach -- something deep, and for him, appealing.

“For lack of a better word, there’s a soul in the music,” Johnson said, “There’s a great care taken to understanding the poetry or the lyrics, the text as its own entity and allowing that to inform and grow into whatever the music becomes.”

Johnson directs Cor Cantiamo.  He said the seeds that led to the choir commissioning Takach’s piece, “The Wings of Our Children,” were planted several years ago. That’s when he met Takach at a convention where the choir was performing.  Johnson says the two found they were very much in agreement about some important things. 

“There’s lots of things going on in our world that need an exploration in the arts, exploration through in music, social justice themes,” he said.  “Wrestling with big ideas in our world right now and being willing to tackle them through music.”

Takach says the feeling was mutual.  And he was mightily impressed by Johnson’s group. 

“There’s not a lot of choirs that perform at the level of excellence that Cor Cantiamo does. They also perform with an emotional depth you don’t often see,” he said.

Takach said once he had a feel for the choir and its director, picking a text wasn’t so difficult. Takach said he believes that a contemporary composer should seek out and adapt contemporary texts. In this case, he’d already had one, based on Leah Bobet’s 2004 short story “Displaced Persons.” Just a few pages long, it manages to give a very unusual take on a very familiar story, in a way that layers the fantasy of the events with an underlying social message. Takach said it made a profound impact on him the first time he read it.

“Everybody has those experiences where immediately they know that something artistic and emotional is happening as they’re experiencing it,” Takach said. “This is one of those things. And I just bent the page and thought, ‘that’s something that needs to happen, that needs to be set to music in some way.'"

In fact, he decided to edit down the story for a musical setting on his own, and only later asked the author if he could use it. She said yes, and when Cor Cantiamo came calling, Takach had his chance to use it.

Johnson says this was in many ways a true collaboration – more so than usual.

“About a year ago, we set up a workshop where Tim came to one of our rehearsals with fragments of ideas,” he said, “so it was a real composition workshop where he said, ‘well, I’m thinking about doing this, how could I write this?’ or, ‘If I asked you to do this, what does that sound like?’ So we had a couple of hours to really just play.” 

Takach said his approach to composing music was shaped early on in high school. 

“I was struck by film scores,” he said. “They really resonated with me, and there’s was something about how that music was supporting the story that was being told. It didn’t just exist on its own. It was a partner with what you were seeing.” 

He studied music at the St. Olaf’s College, renowned for its choral program, and went on to become a member of professional men’s choir Cantus. He says both experiences further imbedded in him the importance of what is actually being said.

“When I write a piece of choral music, when I give it to somebody to perform, I hope that they value the story and the text as much as I do,” Takach said, “because that’s the biggest reason that I’m writing that piece, is so people can hear those words and feel the way that I did when I first read them.”

He says that’s important, whether the text is old and familiar, or, as in this case, completely new.