Better than Happy Birthday

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organGail Archer, associate professor, organist, and music director of the Barnard/Columbia Chorus, played a concert Sunday evening, January 21 as a way of thanking her mentor who continues to mean so much to her.

Archer commissioned her onetime teacher, the avant-garde composer David Noon to write an organ piece on the Pascal plainchant, Pange Lingua. Dr. Noon is an especially lively composer, beloved, if not well known, for his percussion pieces, such as Hit the Deck, in which 4 percussionists sit at a table and “play cards” in complex rhythms, and Swept Away, a percussion piece for brooms.

The commission arose when Dr. Noon, for his 60th birthday, invited, among others, a large number of old students to his composing retreat on the island of Crete. Archer had to miss the retreat, so to make up for it she commissioned the Pange Lingua, for which Noon in the audience as she performed it Sunday. “It was a chance for me to give him this birthday-present, but also to thank him,” says Archer, who traces her fast-paced, energetic, and often humorous teaching style to his influence.

Although Dr. Noon could not be reached for comment, Archer was quick to step in. She calls him “a passionate teacher. He has such high standards and academic expectations. He just brings out the best. He’s the kind of teacher you want to work for.” She said they shared a love of early music and particularly of the old Venetian Republic, and that he was her advisor when she transcribed and translated a 17th century Venetian manuscript by Barbara Strozzi—“A woman!” she emphasizes. (A copy of the piece, “Cantata, Ariete a una, due, e tre voci, opus 3,” can be found in the Music Scores Reference Library of Dodge Hall).

Archer’s next gig, the Barnard/Columbia Chorus Concert, will be held in the James Chapel of Union Theological Seminary, on Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m.  And this Sunday at 5:15, the free organ recitals of St. Thomas continue at 53rd and 5th, in a co-production with Columbia University’s Miller Theater,  with the music of Gyorgy Ligeti, played by John Scott.

– Adam Katz

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1 Comment

  1. gail archer  

    is an awesome professor.

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