Music alumna premieres new choral work for Maryland State Boychoir

March 19, 2012

Justine Koontz, McDaniel Music alumna ’09, conducted the premiere of her new choral work, “Sinner Man,” at the recent annual African-American Celebration Concert at the Colonial Baptists Church in Randallstown.

Commissioned by the Maryland State Boychoir (MSB), Koontz was selected to represent local composers and create a traditional spiritual arrangement for a four-part male chorus in the Changed Voice Choir.

Stephen Holmes, artistic director of the MSB, had met Koontz last June at their annual summer camp held at McDaniel. After Koontz attended the camp’s culminating concert, Music chair Margie Boudreaux introduced her to Holmes. Shortly thereafter he expressed interest in commissioning her work.

Koontz researched spirituals and brought eight to Holmes attention, but it was “Sinner Man” that she was already hearing in her head.

“I am a huge fan of traditional spirituals,” said Koontz. “It’s not a cliché yet, but I tend to find a word or phrase in the text of a spiritual and build an accompaniment on it that unified the work; in the case of ‘Sinner Man,’ it was built on the words ‘you better run!’”

Boudreaux, who was among the concert-goers, was “struck by the depth of understanding and expression shown by the young men who performed the work, which was both musically and emotionally challenging,” she said.

She also added that the minister at the church was so moved by the piece that he used it as inspiration for his closing comments. “Justine is well on her way to making a significant mark in the world of choral repertoire,” Boudreaux said.

Koontz was also pleased with the result, and impressed with the Changed Voice Choir, who “take the work they do very seriously” and “know how to create music, not just sing notes,” she said.

Prior to this, Koontz arranged the spiritual “Follow the Drinking Gourd” in an independent study with Boudreaux in her senior year, premiered as a student conductor in the spring of 2009, performed at the International Festival of Women Composers in spring 2010, and then self-published.

Currently, she is in her third year of study with Judah Adashi at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute, who was “very helpful in providing insight and suggestions during the composition process,” she said.

Koontz will conduct several performances this spring, many on the McDaniel Campus, and in July will travel with the Masterworks Chorale of Carroll County to the World Choir Games in Cincinnati.

Holmes has already asked her for another work for combined choirs, which Koontz hopes to begin shortly, adding “I began self-publishing some of my pieces last summer and hope to continue to add to and refine my catalogue of works.”

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