A PERSON OF NOTE

With more than 300 original pieces in his catalog, composer Bob Moore surely embodies the word “prolific.” Numbers aside, Moore isn’t composing in a crazed, hermetically sealed world of sheet music and Finale software updates, writing works that will never be heard outside of his studio. On the contrary, Moore’s pieces have premiered as far afield as Lincoln Center and Argentina. On the local tip, Moore is the co-founder and composer in residence for the St. Augustine Music Festival (SAMF), the largest free classical music festival in the country. In honor of the festival’s 10th year anniversary, a 24-piece ensemble performs the world premier of Moore’s La Década for Organ, Strings and Timpani this Saturday, June 25 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. 

And while this concert is an estimable achievement, Moore’s past and ongoing musical activities make him a veritable local treasure, albeit one who is woefully on the edge of the spotlight. Arguably, the general public could be intimidated by anything tied in to “classical” music. Combining that apprehension with Moore’s refreshing indifference to being a Northeast Florida arts celeb, and his unwavering discipline to what he describes as his “craft,” and the 53-year-old composer comes across as a kind of blue-collar Bach, indifferent to being carried aloft by hosannas or attaboys from the local cultural cognoscenti.

Renowned for writing choral and instrumental pieces with an emphasis on sacred works, Moore is also adept at penning solo piano, chamber ensembles, band, and orchestral pieces. On the educational level, Moore has given private lessons and taught in public and private schools; his original pieces have been published by over a half dozen music imprints, including Hal Leonard Corporation and GIA Publications. In recent years, Moore and percussionist/educator Tony Steve have been providing a live soundtrack to silent film classics, such as 1922’s Nosferatu. As the trio De Profundis, Moore and Steve are joined by multi-reedsman Joe Yorio in performing what they describe as “sacred jazz” and world music. Moore is currently the director of music for the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, where his tasks range from selecting the hymns to making sure the pipe organ stays in tune.

Folio Weekly Magazine composed a few Q&As and sent them to Moore via email; what follows is a transcription of our exchange.

Folio Weekly Magazine: How would you describe your latest piece, La Década
Bob Moore:La Década was commissioned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the St. Augustine Music Festival. I was the music director for the Cathedral Basilica (where it is held) at the time and was instrumental in getting (SAMF artistic director) Jorge Peña in the door. Jorge was gracious in acknowledging my role with this commission. I’d describe it as a piece of classical chamber music, in that all of the instrumental components are on equal footing, performing without a conductor. 

What compelled you to use this particular instrumentation of organ, strings, and timpani for La Década?
The festival’s chamber music repertoire typically features string instruments, and I thought that the Cathedral’s role in the festival’s success could be acknowledged by the use of the excellent Cassavant pipe organ. The instrumentation is identical to that of (Francis) Poulenc’s Organ Concerto, and the opportunist in me imagined that somewhere down the line La Década could be programmed along side of Poulenc’s masterpiece… so, it’s conceived as a companion piece of a sort. I’m especially excited that Tim Tuller, the canon for music at St. John’s Cathedral, will be the organist.

Could you give me a sense of your actual compositional process? Does it vary or do you feel like over the decades you’ve created a kind of formalized strategy?
The process depends a bit on what kind of piece I’m working on, but usually it follows the pattern of laying out a rough structure (choral music is easier, because the words often determine the form), generating a few ideas to develop, and then slowly filling in the blanks.

I’m curious as to how you might guide the listener through a narrative. Do you use any kind of timbral colorization, syncopations, or other melodic/harmonic devices, etc. to carry the audience along?
Two things come to mind: Firstly, I structured this utilizing what is known in the biz as “arch form.” A solo viola (a nod to the artistic director) states the first theme (melody), which is transformed into the next section, which in turn leads to a middle section   the top of the arch  and then the whole thing is reversed. Sections aren’t repeated literally, but you could still use a graphic of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis to diagram La Década. Secondly, within this structure,  those opening few bars played by the solo viola are the basis for all of the music that follows… more or less. 

It seems like there is an inherent, at times immense, power to classical music. I think it’s beyond the amount of actual symphonic performers playing any given piece but rather the, for lack of a better descriptor, “tonal language” of the music. Do you ever feel any difficulties in harnessing that energy, the proverbial lightning in a bottle? 
I take it back to the concept of being a craftsman. I wish I could be more mystical about it. Sure, I struggle from time to time with my materials, and the results certainly vary. I’m limited to my skill set and imagination, like all artists. I do believe that Western classical music (and also real jazz) is the summit of all musical expression (I get that this is a little Eurocentric). Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the occasional Top 40 ditty with my craft beer. But classical music is to pop music as Shakespeare is to Mad TV.

You write a fair amount of sacred music. When you are writing a religious or spiritual piece, do you feel as if that influence becomes a de facto guidance?
I actually have strong feelings about this. I never attribute the results of my creative work to the influence of a higher power. I have encountered many composers and songwriters who too easily throw out lines like, “the Holy Spirit gave me this song.” I find this kind of thinking to be extremely arrogant. I view my work as craft. I don’t work with a hammer or a paintbrush, but I utilize my tools all the same. I guess I believe in a spiritual non-interference. Does that align me with Aquinas? Calvin? At the end of the day, I’m not about to blame my music on God.

About FOLIO