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IU Jacobs School of Music publishes 'The Art of Descant and Free Harmonization' by Dean Emeritus Charles H. Webb

April 23, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In celebration of the 80th birthday of Dean Emeritus Charles H. Webb Jr., the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music is pleased to announce the publication of "The Art of Descant and Free Harmonization," a book of more than 200 choral and organ descants that accompany a wide variety of hymns.

All harmonizations, descants and arrangements were written by Webb and are the culmination of more than 65 years of performance experience as a church organist, choir director and composer of liturgical music.

"'The Art of Descant and Free Harmonization' will be a valuable resource for organists and choral directors alike as they seek to enliven the worship experience of their parishioners," said Jacobs Dean Gwyn Richards. "It also stands as a testament to Charles Webb's influence in this field."

The idea of writing descants originated in the 1960s, a time when Webb was approached by Shawnee Press during his association with the Fred Waring Music Workshops.

It was evident that a number of church music programs were looking for quality descants. As a result, Shawnee Press published over 60 of them in two volumes: O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (1965) and Now Sing We all to God (1980).

A significant number of Webb's descants were written at the Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy, with the support of a Rockefeller Foundation grant.

Those compositions comprise the majority of the work in this new book, along with Webb's ongoing output and special commissions over four decades.

Drawing from his extensive experience, Webb is keenly aware of how powerfully descants can add to the religious and musical experience of church hymns.

"It's been so thrilling through the years to hear the sopranos soar above the last stanza of the hymn," said Webb.

Soprano and Jacobs School faculty member Sylvia McNair observed, "In his transcriptions, Charles has made the original music soar and has revealed the majesty and magic of the original music with extraordinary, imaginative insights."

In addition to fully realized scores with each descant, the book contains a foreword by the composer that offers guidance and suggestions to organists in regard to performing processional hymns, changing registration and register, the placement of choral and organ descants and how to approach free harmonizations.

An introduction, with insights into the professional life of Webb and the story behind the creation of the book, was written by Marianne Tobias, resident musicologist and program annotator for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and longtime supporter of the Jacobs School.

"The Art of Descant and Free Harmonization" is available from IUMusic MarketPlace, the Jacobs School's online store.

About Charles Webb

Charles Webb retired from the faculty of Indiana University on July 1, 1997, having served the Jacobs School of Music as dean for the previous 24 years.

During that time, the music school was named number one in quality in three independent national surveys.

Webb received Bachelor of Arts and Master of Music degrees from Southern Methodist University and a Doctor of Music degree from Indiana in 1964.

Webb maintains an active performance career as conductor, pianist and organist.

Appointed conductor of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir in 1967, Webb has conducted the choir and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in many choral works, including Handel's Messiah, Haydn's "Creation," Mendelssohn's "Elijah," Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" and Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms."

In 1969, he directed the premiere of Dave Brubeck's The Light in the Wilderness.

In 1978, he prepared the chorus for Berlioz Requiem performances at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.

Webb is chairman of the board of advisors of International Music Festivals Inc., was appointed in July 1976 by Governor Bowen to the Indiana Arts Commission and is a member of the board of trustees of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

He also serves on the recommendation board for the Avery Fisher Prize, as director of the Busoni Foundation, as a member of the advisory board of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition and as a member of the National Advisory Board of the American Guild of Organists.

Webb was one of four people from Indiana University selected for the 1970 edition of "Outstanding Educators in America" and is listed in "Who's Who in America" and "Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians."

In 1980, Webb received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Southern Methodist University.

In 1983, he was named a member of the prestigious Indiana Academy.

He has served as a judge for international music competitions on several continents, including the Liszt-Bartok Competition in Hungary, the Busoni Competition in Italy and the Munich Competition, as well as the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition in Paris and the Carl Flesch Competition in London.

Webb was a recipient of the Thomas Hart Benton Medal from Indiana University in June 1987 and the IU President's Medal in December 2000.

He has received three "Sagamore of the Wabash" awards -- from Indiana governors Bowen, Orr and O'Bannon -- the highest award the state gives for meritorious service.

In 2004, he was named a "Living Legend" of the State of Indiana by the Indiana Historical Society and was appointed to a congressional committee by Colin Powell, the "Committee to Advise the Secretary of State on Cultural Diplomacy."

Webb received the Distinguished Alumni Service Award of Indiana University in June 2005.

He was named an honorary member of the Alliance of Distinguished and Titled Professors of Indiana University in 1997.