Debut of choral anthem
[MAY 24, 2003] A choral anthem commissioned and composed in memory of Helen Post of Lincoln debuted at St. John United Church of Christ on Mother's Day, May 11.
"A Virtuous Woman," composed by Bonnie Johansen-Werner of Edgewood, Iowa, was commissioned by the local church and dedicated to the memory of Helen Post, a longtime member who died Aug. 19, 2002. She taught Sunday school for many years and, beginning at age 15, sang for funerals in Middletown, New Holland and Lincoln. She continued singing to age 70, when she lost her soprano voice to bronchitis.
The new anthem is based on Proverbs 31:10, 26-31, a favorite Scripture of Helen Post, according to her son William. The passage identifies characteristics of a virtuous woman. As paraphrased in the anthem, it reads:
"A virtuous woman who can find? She speaks with wisdom and teaches kindness. Watching o'er the ways of her house, she is not idle. Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also rises to sing praise. Many women live in virtue, but you excel them all. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised. Give her the rewards of her hands, for her works shall bring her praise."
William Post expressed delight with the performance and the service: "It was a grand and glorious day!" Of the choir he judged, "I thought they did an excellent job." Post said Johansen-Werner was also pleased with the performance and with the opportunity to hear her composition sung for the first time. "You may play passages on the piano," he quoted her as saying, "but it's when you get the blend of voices that you get the feel of the whole piece."
Johansen-Werner is the composer-in-residence for the Dubuque district of the United Methodist Church. A diaconal minister, she is also McCosh assistant professor of music at Upper Iowa University in Fayette. She has held leadership positions in the Iowa Choral Directors Association and the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts. She earned a bachelor's degree from Augustana College and a master's from Concordia College in River Forest.
The St. John United Church of Christ chancel choir debuted "A Virtuous Woman" under the direction of the Rev. Richard Reinwald. Laura Lee accompanied on the organ. Reinwald also conducts the Lincoln Area Musical Society chorale.
Helen Post's three surviving children -- William and Henry, both of Lincoln, and Helen Beccue of Sherman -- attended the performance, along with other family members. Another daughter, Donna Roschnafsky, is deceased. Helen Post chose the passage on which the anthem is based to be read at her daughter's funeral in 1958.
The new anthem is contrapuntal. Reinwald described it as "three simple melodies interwoven into this tapestry of sound." He interpreted that the busyness of the score reflects the busyness of a woman's life.
Johansen-Werner said she wanted to "convey the many characteristics of a woman's life, from strength, energy and determination to graciousness and compassion. These characteristics transcend eras and nations, being as prevalent in women of Biblical eras as in contemporary life, and in nations east and west, north and south."
According to Johansen-Werner, the piece begins in the style of a fuguing tune, moves to a homophonic passage, and then to a lyrical and expressive countermelody. In one section the female voices sing a long soaring passage with the male voices underneath in slightly quicker notes. The composer said the passage reflects a woman's watching over the ways of her house. She concluded, "Ultimately, the piece proved to be just plain fun as the various melodies took on a life of their own ... sometimes with energy and sometimes with soaring lyricism."
The score is 14 pages long. This length, however, is somewhat deceptive since many sections require separate notation for soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts as well as the organ accompaniment, allowing only two lines of music on some pages.
As for rehearsing the complex score for performance, "It was a bear," Reinwald said. Then he corrected himself: "It really wasn't. But it required a great deal more concentration in terms of timing than we are used to."
Johansen-Werner and her husband, Duane Werner, are longtime friends of William Post. The two men became acquainted in 1984. Werner, who has retired as organist and diaconal minister of music at Grace United Methodist Church in Decatur, played and sang at Helen Post's funeral.
Copies of "A Virtuous Woman" as well as Johansen-Werner's other unpublished works may be obtained from her at 400 Miller St., Edgewood, IA 52042. Her works include 19 anthems, eight congregational songs, two instrumental arrangements, four secular pieces and three vocal jazz arrangements. Her musical setting of "Prayers of the People" appears in "The Faith We Sing," a supplement to the United Methodist Hymnal. Her anthems "O Lord, Who is Our Neighbor" and "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine" are published by Alliance Publications.