Yarbrough's work will start symphony's season Saturday Stephen Yarbrough by David Lias Saturday is going to be a special day for both the South Dakota Symphony in Sioux Falls and Stephen Yarbrough, associate professor of music at The University of South Dakota.
The symphony will perform its opening subscription concert for the season Saturday. One of their works will be With the Voice of Joy and Praise, a five-minute composition for full orchestra written by Yarbrough this summer.
"I just had one of my students who plays in the orchestra tell me that they played it last night (Monday) and they liked it, which is a good sign," Yarbrough said.
The 1997 dedication of Old Main on the USD campus, which included a concert featuring Yarbrough's original work Remembrances and Praises, served as the catalyst for the university professor's relationship with the Sioux Falls Symphony.
"Some of the players in the brass group that did Remembrances and Praises were players in the symphony, and Henry Charles Smith, the symphony conductor, is a trombone player," Yarbrough said.
Some of the brass players told Smith about the piece, he added, and how much they enjoyed playing it, and Smith was preparing a concert of just music for the brass section of the symphony orchestra.
"They selected two movements from the suite to include in their concert, and they asked me to come up and conduct," he added, "so I conducted a rehearsal and we did a concert over in Yankton, which I conducted, and I thought that was that."
But in May, Smith wrote Yarbrough, inquiring if he had a five-minute piece for the South Dakota Symphony because he would like to include works by South Dakota composers in the symphony's concerts.
"I immediately faxed him back the same day saying I didn't have anything in my catalog that would be immediately available, but I had the summer free and I could write something for them," Yarbrough said. "So I started writing for them near the end of May, and the piece was finished in three-and-a-half weeks.
"It was just one of those pieces that, once it got started, it just took off," he added. "I think it was because I was having so much fun doing it, and of course I was doing it full time. And the technology makes it much easier to write."
Yarbrough's creative style includes more than sitting at a piano and scratching musical scores on paper with a lead pencil.
He uses a computer to help him write and arrange his music.
"As you write, you can hear how it's going to sound when it's played back," he said. "I can take, for instance, each line of the 25 staves in the score and assign them on my tone module to the instrument that corresponds to that line."
Yarbrough said he can then come pretty close to the simulation of what an orchestra playing his music will sound like.
"It's a great tool; it allows you hear immediately a fairly accurate representation of what your music is going to sound like," he said.
With the Voice of Joy and Praise is based on Psalm 42, which begins with the famous line, "as the deer longs for the water-brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God." It continues by complaining to God about oppression and mockery from one's enemies, and, in the utter honesty of the psalmist, cries out to God "why have you forgotten me, and why do I go so heavily?"
Yarbrough notes that it is in this context that the line "With the voice of praise and thanksgiving" is found. The psalm ends with an affirmation of faith energized by memories of God's presence and love.
"The theme of joy in the very memory of God as experienced in present suffering is a powerful expression of faith, and one which I have sought to express musically in this particular work," Yarbrough said. "As to the work's inner meaning, I have sought to express the joy that comes, even in the midst of suffering, with the memory in and hope for the presence and deliverance of God's love for us all."