‘A Quick 5’ with Elam Ray Sprenkle, composer

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Elam Roy Sprenkle, composer. Photo courtesy of Bach in Baltimore.

Bach fans in Baltimore will have a special treat at the upcoming concert on April 24. Local resident Elam Ray Sprenkle’s composition ‘Go Down Death’ with text by James Weldon Johnson will be performed. The piece was commissioned by Maestro H. Herbert Dimmock in the 1980s in memory of his mother, Anne Hortense Pruitt Dimmock. Sprenkle’s piece will be performed after Brahms’ “Requiem” (presented in English). Sprenkle’s work, unlike that of Brahms, is liturgical.

Brahms’ “Requiem” is a non-liturgical composition with texts “full of imagery and fitting into an overall architectural plan”. The Bach in Baltimore Orchestra will perform with the Bach in Baltimore Choir and featured soloists, soprano Amy Broadbent and baritone Jeffrey Williams, under the direction of Maestro Dimmock.

Biography: Bach audiences in Baltimore may already know E. Ray Sprenkle as he wrote all of his scholarly program notes. What they may not realize is that he is also a composer.

Elam Ray Sprenkle was born into a family rooted in Southern Pennsylvania Mennonites. That explains his biblical first name… harder is to find the source of his versatility – a professor of music history, theory and ideas at Peabody Conservatory and Johns Hopkins University; a choirmaster; a veteran WBJC-FM radio operator favoring facts over opinions; an admirer of American creativity; a baseball fan striving for the Orioles’ first pitch; and a Civil War student unable to shake off his education near Gettysburg. This all becomes secondary when Sprenkle drops the Ray and signs his name. This means he has completed another composition as Elam Sprenkle, one of Maryland’s greatest composers.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania in 1948. I came to Baltimore the day the Orioles beat Koufax in the 1966 World Series to study at Peabody. I’m here since. I taught at Peabody for 44 years and retired in 1966.

You had close ties with Bach in Baltimore. What influence has Bach had on your own musical career?
Like any discipline, music is competitive. I think any musician who takes music seriously quickly comes to the conclusion that JS Bach was the best of us.

Do you prefer to teach, compose or direct?
I would say “everything within reach” as long as there is something special going on.

What do you remember from the writing of “Go Down Death”, commissioned by maestro T. Herbert Dimmock?
I remember being stunned by the text, suggested by Herb. I had never seen him.

How do you think your composition goes, or doesn’t go, with the “Requiem?”
It’s up to others to say. Brahms said his requiem was more “human”. “Go Down, Death” is more of a spectacular “Christian” description of the moment of death. To that extent, it doesn’t mix at all. And yet it should fill the beat convincingly, much like Brahms’ mighty ‘Requiem’. Doing so will strike some as a mix.

Brahms’ “Requiem” Memorial Concert, in remembrance of lives lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, and featuring Sprenkle’s “Go Down Death” will be presented by Bach in Baltimore on Sunday, April 24, 2022 at 4 p.m. at Towson United Church Methodist, 501 Hampton Lane, Baltimore, MD 21286. For tickets, click this link. If you can’t do this wonderful performance in person, you can stream all previous and upcoming concerts of the season at Bach in Baltimore, live and on demand.

Note: If you want to listen to “Go Down Death”, it has already been recorded by T. Herbert Dimmock and can be heard on YouTube.

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