Glimpse of a Genius
Emil Soderstrom at his best . . .
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I consider it among God's greatest blessings that I have counted among my dearest friends many musical giants. I will not name them here, save one, Emil Soderstrom. For some he was a difficult man . . . not so for me. He was one of my dearest and best friends in life. If he were here physically and heard me refer to him as a genius he'd likely take a swing at me, verbally or otherwise. However, I hold that he was and I will offer the listener but a small fragment of one of his many great works as proof.
In the 1950's he visited a Camp-Of-The-Woods in NY and wrote a piece for concert band called Song Of Israel. He did so without writing a score! He simply wrote out the parts for sixty-plus musicians! He later decided to do the same for brass band and wrote out parts from memory and visited The Salvation Army Chicago Staff Band to try it out, again absent a full score! I know because I was there that night when it was first played in the brass version under his baton. It is 163 bars and lasts something over seven minutes and is very complex and extremely difficult. The horn part that evening and for years thereafter was wondrously played by the incomparable Howard Chesham, another treasured friend.
I recently called upon my good friend, Bandmaster Ronald Waiksnoris of the New York Staff Band to provide me with a copy of the score to study. Memories washed over me as I poured over the score. When I got to the Andante Pastorale section I was totally overcome and compelled to make it possible for others to sample the exquisite beauty of the music of this humble man, my friend, the genius.
Song of Israel features the hymn tune Leoni, an ancient Hebrew hymn named for the man who transcribed it for western use. The words associated with it are "God of Abraham Praise". In this little pastorale Soderstrom tells of: " . . . a scene of unbelievable beauty; the land of milk and honey. David is tending his father's sheep, and the young poet-musician is deeply moved by the pastoral beauty around him. This may well have been the kind of scene which inspired the twenty-third psalm. David takes a self-made reed flute and plays "Song of Israel" in keeping with the tranquil scene."
As I looked upon this music I was completely overcome and sobbed openly at the simple beauty of it. Should I live to be a hundred I doubt I shall ever approach writing music of such transcendent beauty. Listen to it in the brass band version by clicking the link above. God bless you!
(Dr. Soderstrom's David's Pastorale is now in our organ catalog. See Brass Band, Piano, Other Ensembles and Vocal Catalogs for other music by Emil.)
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