Wisconsin Composer Series: Seth Houston

As we lead up to our April 18th concert featuring music by Wisconsin composers, we are profiling some of the composers and their pieces that we are featuring. We hope that you come out and join us at Alverno College Chapel on April 18th at 7 p.m.!

Seth Houston www.sethhouston.com

Seth Houston

Seth Houston: “The Reapers All With Their Sharp Sickles”

Seth Houston is a choral conductor and composer currently the Director of Choral Activities at Carroll University in Waukesha. He holds a DMA in choral music at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, where he studied with such musicians as Morten Lauridsen, Jo-Michael Scheibe, Donald Brinegar, Nick Strimple and Cristian Grases.

His music has been commissioned by a wide variety of choirs and universities. In addition to his composing, he is also well known as a scholar of music. He has presented research on the music of Schumann, Brahms, and the American shape-note tradition at national conferences of the American Brahms Society,National Collegiate Choral Organization, and College Music Society.

We are performing his piece “The Reapers All With Their Sharp Sickles” on our April 18 concert. The piece features alto Lauren Schell as the soloist. It is an eerie, occasionally jarring piece that brings the first half of our concert to its conclusion.

Here are excerpts from the composer’s notes for the piece:


The Reapers All With Their Sharp Sickles is based on the early American folk hymn Meditation, by Elisha West. West was a leading musical figure in Woodstock, Vermont in the late 1700s and early 1800s. West ran into financial difficulties toward the end of his life and his later whereabouts are not known.

Meditation may have been based, at least in part, on songs already circulating in oral tradition. Its text, whose author is unknown, is closely related to that of Vermonter Jeremiah Ingalls’ Harvest Hymn. Both texts use images of harvest and late autumn as metaphors for death and the second coming. These agrarian images would have been especially apt for composers such as West and Ingalls, who experienced every year the severity of Vermont winters. Houston’s arrangement incorporates the melody and text of West’s Meditation with additional text from Ingalls’ Harvest Hymn.

Here is the poem:

The fields are all white, the harvest is near
The reapers all with their sharp sickles appear
To reap down their wheat, and gather in barns
While wild plants of nature are left for to burn

Come, then, O my soul, meditate on that day
When all things in nature shall cease and decay
When the trumpet shall sound, the angels appear
To reap down the earth, both the wheat and the tare

‘Twill all be in vain, the mountains must flee
The rocks fly like hailstones, and shall no more be
The earth it shall shake, the seas shall retire
And this solid world, then, will all be on fire

So farewell, I leave you, pond’ring your way
The Lord seal instruction to what I now say
Your souls to God’s throne be pour’d out in pray’r
That you be prepared to meet Christ in the air

To learn more about Seth Houston and his music, visit www.sethhouston.com.


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