A Celebration of the Music of Margaret Sandresky
A Celebration of the Music of Margaret Sandresky in honor of her 100th Birthday, led by Rhonda Sider Edgington.
This organ program will take place on April 9 at 7:30pm in the Calvin University Chapel on the Dobson Pipe Organ (Op. 44, 1989). It is free for the Calvin University community (ticketed) and will livestream on the Calvin University livestream page.
Toccata: Now Thank We All Our God (2000)
Commissioned for the 200th anniversary of the sanctuary dedication at Home Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
L’homme armé Organ Mass (1979)
- Introit (Entrada)
- Kyrie (Lord, have mercy upon us)
- Agnus Dei
Meditation on “Amazing Grace” (1996)
Five Sacred Dances (1998)
- Processional: “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance” (Psalm 89:15).
- “I desire that in every place men should pray, lifting holy hands above” (1 Timothy 2:8).
- “I will bow down towards your holy temple” (Psalm 138:2).
- “And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind” (Isaiah 7:2).
- “And David danced before the ark of the Lord” (2 Samuel 6:15).
Variations on an Original Theme (2013)
Ein Feste Burg (choral prelude in the old style, 2002)
Prelude, Aria, and Finale (2013)
Margaret Vardell Sandresky was born April 28, 1921, in Macon, Georgia, the daughter of Eleanor Ferrill, a gifted soprano, and Charles Gildersleeve Vardell, a well-known pianist, organist, and composer. Her family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1923, when her father joined the faculty of Salem College School of Music. There she remained until her graduation in organ from that school in 1942.
Subsequently, Sandresky earned a Master of Music degree in composition at the Eastman School of Music in 1944, where she was an organ pupil of Harold Gleason, and studied composition with both Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers. At Eastman she was a teaching assistant in sixteenth-century counterpoint.
In 1955, she was awarded a Fulbright grant to the State Institute of Music in Frankfurt, Germany, to study organ with Helmut Walcha, an authority on North German Baroque music. Here she was also a pupil of Maria Jäger-Jung in cembalo, Johann Köhler in improvisation, and Kurt Hessenberg in composition.
Upon her return to the U.S., she married Clemens Sandresky, a pianist and dean of the School of Music at Salem College, where she was teaching. They had three children, and her creative energy was centered on home life until the children were of school age.
Her colleague Dr. John S. Mueller encouraged her to begin composing for the organ and recommended her to Wayne Leupold, who saw a vision for her work and has published ten volumes of her organ music. Her pieces have been performed in China, Russia, Germany, and the Czechia, recorded on major CD labels, and presented at regional and national conventions of the American Guild of Organists (AGO).
After teaching music theory at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the University of Texas at Austin, Sandresky returned to Salem College, where she taught until her retirement in 1986. Additionally, as a founding member of the faculty of the North Carolina School of the Arts, she established its organ department in 1965.
Sandresky was an ASCAP Standards Award winner for many years. She received the AGO Distinguished Composer of the Year Award in 2004 and the Distinguished Alumna Award from Salem College at her 75th reunion in 2017. In 2011 she received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian award given by the governor of North Carolina.
She still composes every day.
In 2011, I moved back to the United States after seven years in Germany. My time there began with a Fulbright scholarship to study the organs and music of 17th-century North Germany, and much of my musical focus during those years was on Dietrich Buxtehude and his contemporaries. As I returned to the U.S. and left behind beautiful instruments, I knew that, although I’d come to love that music and would continue to play it when I could, I needed to find a new musical passion. (Scheidemann played in equal temperament on eclectic twentieth-century American instruments just isn’t the same!) In the last ten years, I’ve expanded my focus to include the music of living composers. Margaret Sandresky is one of the composers I’ve been learning about, championing, and performing, both here in the US and when I’m back in Germany. It’s been amazing to watch her compositional output continue as she neared her centennial, and is a joy to celebrate this American original who has produced so much distinctive music for our instrument.
This program contains both hymn settings and free works, shorter pieces and longer cycles. There is a representative from Sandresky’s earliest works (her Mass setting), her “Five Sacred Dances” from the late 1980s, and a variation set from her most recent volume of organ works, published in 2018.
We open with a Toccata on the festive hymn “Now Thank We All Our God.” The dedication is included here because it’s indicative of Sandresky’s commitment both to church music and to the Moravian tradition so important in Winston-Salem, where she lives. She speaks often of being the fourth generation of professional women musicians in her family, and as both she and her father taught music at Salem College in Winston-Salem, the influence of the Moravians on her music and of her music within their tradition is prevalent.
The L’homme armé Mass is based on a fifteenth-century French secular tune that has been used as the basis for many Mass settings. Sandresky is likely referencing famous Renaissance choral works, such as those by Dufay, Josquin, and Palestrina. The movements employ wildly different registrations and create varied moods.
- A stately opening; a courtly procession.
- A plaintive cry for mercy, with the melody played in the pedals.
- A jubilant song of praise with many different sound colors, the frequent trills perhaps evoking angels’ wings (thanks to organist and scholar Kimberly Marshall for this insight).
- A serious, cerebral statement of faith, opening with the melody in the pedal and ending with a dissonant fugue that grows in volume and in rhythmic complexity to a climatic end.
- A light, flowing, perhaps otherworldly section.
- Meditative, with a quietly soaring melody.
“Meditation on ‘Amazing Grace’” is a favorite of mine for the way Sandresky brings fresh and unexpected harmonic shifts to this familiar tune.
“Five Sacred Dances” are, according to the composer, “based on Biblical texts describing movement, and the works are composed to suggest these motions.” This piece was written for the dedication of the organ at Augsburg Lutheran Church in Winston-Salem. Sandresky comments that the final movement was inspired by a sermon she heard at the dedication of another organ in Winston-Salem. An early performance at Wake Forest University in 1999 included choreography and dancers; as you listen, try to imagine what that would look like!
- Sandresky directs the performer to perform the processional “slowly enough for each chord to be contemplated.” We can picture dancers entering to this music, slowly taking their places in the space.
- The second movement begins with a three-note chord. This sonority continues throughout the piece, held in place by three pencils inserted into the keyboard. Over the top of this drone rises a set of harmonies and melodies, mysterious and evocative as incense rising.
- The third movement is marked “gracefully” and is filled with a three-note motive that rises and falls.
- The fourth movement both pulses and flows. The listener can imagine trees moving in a gentle breeze.
- The final movement, a toccata, opens with what is perhaps the echoing call of a shofar before moving into a frenetic dance, full of energy. A middle section is no less lively and dance-like, but it employs a repeated-note motive and is more playful. Of special note in this section is the effect, both visual and aural, when Sandresky calls for the organist to move between all three manuals in quick succession while playing one pedal note in each foot. David is not the only one dancing in this movement!
Sandresky has written quite a few variations sets, often on hymn tunes, but occasionally not. “Variations on an Original Theme” was composed to honor American composer Carson Cooman’s 30th birthday and is based on a beautiful, lyrical melody that sounds quite like a folk tune when it is heard at the beginning of the piece. It is followed by six different variations, each utilizing a very different set of sound colors. The final variation opens with block chords but then moves into a dance-like section, contrasting different sounds before segueing into a joyful and powerful finale.
EIN FESTE BURG is the tune setting for “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Here, Sandresky sets it with counterpoint, as Buxtehude or Bach might have done, but she also uses some of her distinctive brand of harmonic inventiveness.
“Prelude, Adagio, and Finale” was written in honor of Thomas Kenan, a friend to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and donor of its recital hall organ. The piece was premiered by Dr. Timothy Olsen, Sandresky’s successor as organ professor at both UNCSA and Salem College. The Prelude is a festive opening with a contrasting softer solo section. The Adagio showcases two different solo sounds above a rocking ostinato. Sandresky composed a hymn (KENAN) on which part of the Finale was based, heard in the dreamy, meditative section shortly before the end of the piece.
Rhonda Sider Edgington is often commended for her innovative programming, colorful use of registrations, and exciting playing. Her seven years in Bremen, Germany, originally with a Fulbright scholarship to study and work closely with Prof. Harald Vogel, led to her passion for the repertoire and organs of seventeenth-century Germany.
Edgington has played recitals at venues such as St. Paul Cathedral, Pittsburgh; West Point (N. Y.) Cadet Chapel, and Arizona State University, as well as on many important historical instruments in Germany by builders such as Silberman and Schnitger. She has performed at numerous national and regional conventions of the American Guild of Organists and the Organ Historical Society and has been featured on the radio program Pipedreams.
She has envisioned and realized programs including Music of Japan for Organ, Marimba, and Taiko Drums; Jazz and the Organ, with Hammond B3 master Tony Monaco; Revelation, with dancers and the music of Jean Langlais; and collaborations with many instrumentalists, including musicians on tuba, bassoon, and French horn. Edgington co-led an educational tour for the European chapter of the AGO to visit organs of Northern Germany, and she is currently dean of the Holland (Mich.) AGO chapter.
Edgington is the organist and assistant music director at Hope Church in Holland, Michigan, teaches organ at Calvin University, and regularly travels to perform. She also enjoys riding her bike, reading, and facilitating writing circles with women at the Allegan County Jail and Harbor House in Holland.
You can read about her musical adventures on her website, rhonda.edgington.info; hear clips on her YouTube channel; or find her on Instagram @i_luv_schnitgers.