Listening Page #51: Donald W. Wilson

JANUARY 25, 2009

Donald M. Wilson
Make a Joyful Noise (Psalm 100) performed by the Bowling Green State University Women’s Chorus, Mark Munson, director

“Make a Joyful Noise” (Psalm 100) was written in June 2002. It was one of the most delightful experiences of my entire career as composer. I remember being bombarded with ideas for melody, counterpoint and accompaniment–and as quickly as they came to me I can recall putting them directly onto my laptop for editing and playback.

For example, the opening arpeggios in the piano accompaniment nominated themselves to represent “a joyful noise”–as did the first dissonance of the piece when the unison line breaks into a Major 2nd on the word “noise”. To illustrate the processional aspect of verse four (“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise…”), I was prompted to use an ostinato bass-line that can be analyzed as the inversion of the opening piano arpeggio in double augmentation. This walking bass-line first appears as the accompaniment to verse three (“Know ye that the Lord he is God…”) before coming back twenty measures later to underscore the sense of the text for verse four.

To convey the sense of verse five (“For the Lord is good; his mercy is ever-lasting; and his truth endureth…”), I was inspired to compose a musical “loop” that gradually fades into eternity. Anyone who has ever sung in a choir will know that this kind of fadeout is extremely difficult to execute “live”–without benefit of microphones and a mixing board. The final pile-up of statements based on verse one (“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.”) is one of the most rousing passages I have ever been motivated to write; I still want to jump up and shout “Yay God!” whenever I hear it. Actually, all the ideas for the piece were given to me by some outside force that I can only assume was the Holy Spirit. I really felt that I was writing what the Lord God Almighty wanted me to write in order to sing His praises. Many CFAMC members have experienced this same phenomenon; I am sure that they will corroborate my testimony.

The entire SATB setting was written in just two days. Later on, I transcribed the work for women’s chorus and it was premiered in that form on April 23, 2005, by the Bowling Green State University Women’s Chorus under the baton of its director, Mark Munson. That premiere performance is the one featured on this month’s Listening Page.

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. (Psalm 100 KJV)

Soon after turning 13, while attending my home church’s summer camp, I went forward at the end of the Tuesday evening chapel service and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. That was August 1st, 1950.

Throughout that comparatively peaceful decade, I lived for the Lord and He blessed me with a variety of interests and opportunities. But then, in the turbulent 1960s, I strayed off the main path that He had planned for me. It was not until February 1st, 1984, that I re-affirmed my faith in Christ–and not until February of 1990 that I began to do something about it. I am so thankful that we have a loving, gracious and forgiving God. Otherwise, how could I have single-handedly atoned for those three wasted decades?

So now I live for the Lord, and I write music in collaboration with Him. It’s a great and wonderful collaboration: He tells me what to compose and I put it on my computer for instant playback and evaluation. Sometimes He even suggests things that I ordinarily would not write, and I hear myself saying “I’m not so sure about that…” or “Can I get away with that?” My choral piece, “Make A Joyful Noise” (Psalm 100), is a good example of this process.

[Please refer to the Program Note included elsewhere on this page.]

In recent weeks I have received so many answers to prayer, from minor matters to major catastrophes, that I am beginning to get a sense of the awesome power that watches over me and my loved ones and that provides strength when mine is gone. What a Friend we have in Jesus!

A native of Chicago, Donald M. Wilson studied composition with Karel Husa and Robert Palmer at Cornell University and with Gunther Schuller at the Berkshire Music Center (Tanglewood).  In 1965 Wilson became the first music director of WUHY-FM, the educational FM station in Philadelphia that is now known as NPR member-station WHYY-FM. Currently a professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University, Wilson joined the BGSU music faculty in 1967; taught music theory, analysis and composition for 31 years; and chaired the Music Composition/History Department for two four-year terms (1973-77; 1994-98). From 1983 to 1995 Wilson produced over 80 one-hour programs in the annual “New Music Festival” radio series for national distribution.

A member of the American Music Center since 1964 and a member of the American Composers Alliance since 1967, Wilson became a charter member of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers in 1995. Three years later he was elected to the latter organization’s Board of Directors, and in 2001-05 he served as Regional Activities coordinator with the goal of establishing at least seven regional CFAMC chapters throughout the USA.

– – –  SOLI DEO GLORIA!  – – –

For comments, e-mail Don directly at: Visit Don’s website at:

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