Nathan Pennington '23 wins student organ composition competition
Nathan Pennington, a sophomore church music major from Lincoln, recently won the Student Organ Composition Competition organized by the Lincoln Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO).
Pennington's piece, "Fantasy for a Forgotten Flowerbed," stood out to the four judges, who evaluated submissions based on harmonic interest, accessibility, creativity and the musician's potential.
"Honestly, I was not expecting to win," Pennington said, "I just wanted to get some experience writing for a deadline shorter than the semester-long composition lessons I'm in currently. I am grateful to those who helped me in the writing process, both professors and friends, as well as to God for this wonderful opportunity. My gifts come from Him, so all the praise truly belongs to Him alone."
The competition, open to middle school, high school and college students, was created by the Lincoln AGO as a way for students to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea was brought to the Lincoln AGO by a student organist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln serving on the board. Submissions were received from students in Seward to Council Bluffs, Brent Shaw, dean of the Lincoln AGO said, including college students from Concordia, Doane University, Nebraska Wesleyan University, Southeast Community College and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
"We were excited to have something to do while everything was shut down," Shaw said. "We couldn't go to recitals or go to church, and it was great to have something positive."
Shaw said the Lincoln AGO includes members ranging from middle school-aged to 92-years-old who are either interested in playing the organ or are professional organists. Typically, professors from local universities are members, Shaw said, and they share their membership with students as a way to help them connect with other students and professionals.
The competition’s judges lauded Pennington’s “Fantasy for a Forgotten Flowerbed” for its form, saying it was organized well and included a great use of chromatic progression, Shaw said. The piece was derived from the combination of Pennington’s organ repertoire that includes hymns and baroque/French organ literature.
"The melody line soloed for the majority of the piece is reminiscent of some of my favorite hymn tunes from church with a little French flair in the harmonic accompaniment," Pennington said.
Before arriving at Concordia, Pennington played the organ for his church in high school and he loved to make music. Once he got to campus, he saw all of the opportunities with Church Music, and he found that to be his calling.
“I hope to be called to a church where I will serve as the Director of Music,” he said, “where I plan to lead the congregation at the organ with the addition of other appropriate music choices, such as vocal chorus or instrumental ensembles, as well as assist the congregation in their spiritual growth through music.”
Pennington’s advisor, Dr. Joseph Herl, professor of music, said he believes Concordia students create their own opportunities within the music program.
“There’s a lot happening here and it’s a fruitful environment to learn about and experience Church Music,” he said. “Part of that is generated from professors, but students create a lot of opportunities themselves.”
Throughout all of his musical growth at Concordia, Pennington said his faith has grown even more. “A classic Christian education is the foundation of my Concordia experience and is an integral part of all my classes, even my lessons and ensembles,” he said.