Ethan McGrath listened to the choirs of St. Paul’s, Good Shepherd, and St. Timothy’s Episcopal churches in Chattanooga at their Choral Evensong event last May, not as an observer, but as the composer of the premiere of a liturgical work the three churches commissioned him to write.
McGrath, a senior majoring in Music Composition, grew up playing the piano and organ. He likes to write choral music best—he has the ability to not only imagine the sounds of the instruments, he can also hear a choir singing along. That talent led to a consortium commission for him in 2012. A new anthem for chorus and organ, a setting of Psalm 95, was commissioned by several church choirs, a community choir and a collegiate choir.
Dr. Jonathan McNair recognized McGrath’s talent when he met him three years ago. “It is unusual for an undergraduate to have publications, and to have landed commissions from people other than a close circle of friends,” explained McNair, UC Foundation Professor and Coordinator of Music Theory and Composition.
McNair shared that McGrath has played, sung, and listened to a lot of music in the Classical tradition, and so “he has absorbed a lot of what works.”
To actually hear his work performed is an educational experience, McGrath said.
“It is rewarding when things go well. Sometimes the piece sounds different in performance. It’s hard to be exact. Someone can have a different interpretation that’s actually better,” McGrath said.
McGrath’s first published piece, “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,” was included in a reading session at the American Choral Director’s Association National Conference in Dallas, Texas, in March 2013. Dr. Rodney Eichenberger, well-known among choral music enthusiasts, selected McGrath’s work for the reading session. Another one of McGrath’s professors, Dr. Kevin Ford, studied under Eichenberger at Florida State.
With funding from Kickstarter, McGrath has also released a CD of his compositions for voice and piano. Read more about McGrath’s achievements here.
As he anticipates earning his undergraduate degree in May 2014, McGrath is considering graduate school. He hopes to make his career in composition, particularly in choral music, and perhaps teaching in higher education.
“I believe that Ethan will continue to compose a lot of choral and other vocal music, as this is a main interest. Hopefully he will continue to compose instrumental works as well. And I hope he will continue to perform as a pianist,” McNair said.