University Choir to perform Carson Cooman's “Acts of the Apostles”

Acts composer Carson Cooman ’04 and conductor Edward E. Jones talk about the oratorio “Acts of the Apostles,” to be performed in Harvard's Memorial Church, March 3, 2019. Video by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications.

Carson Cooman ’04 is fairly nonchalant about the pace of musical composition produced by a mind seemingly full of notes, rhythms, and his own internal orchestra.

The resident composer at the Memorial Church of Harvard University is constantly writing music for the church, the Harvard University Choir, as well as private commissions. Cooman’s catalogue comprises more than 1,000 musical compositions, including pieces for organ, solo-instrumental, orchestra, and voice.

“He’s amazing,” said Edward Elwyn Jones, Gund Organist and Choirmaster at the Memorial Church of Harvard University. “He is prolific. If you look at his works list, he is in the thousands. And I think over the years, he has consolidated his compositional style into a uniquely American voice that is just beautiful music-making.”

The Harvard University Choir will perform Cooman’s oratorio The Acts of the Apostles at 4 p.m., Sunday in the sanctuary of the Memorial Church. The performance marks the 10th anniversary of the premiere of the piece at the church in 2009.

“It’s always enjoyable to hear something that you have worked on for so long, come to life in actual performance,” said Cooman, who graduated from Harvard College in 2004. “My relationship with the piece 10 years ago is very different than it is now. It is not at the forefront of my mind, but is it particularly interesting this year to hear a live performance as I’m working on another (oratorio.)”

Carson Cooman conducts the Choral Fellows in Appleton ChapelCarson Cooman conducts the Choral Fellows during Morning Prayers in Appleton Chapel. Photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

The piece is based on the fifth book of the New Testament of the Bible, which tells of the creation of the Christian Church and the spread of Jesus’s teachings throughout the Roman Empire.

“It tells in a series of scenes some of the stories from the earliest years of Christianity,” Cooman said. “It begins with the Pentecost scene and goes from there to some of the other scenes from Acts — the stoning of Stephen, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, and the conversion of Saul to become Paul.”

The performance, conducted by Jones, will feature the voices of the Harvard University Choir and soloist Christopher Talbot. The concert is free and open to the public.

“I think the audience should try and hold on to these words and see the power behind these words,” said Jones. “People should be open to the novel sonic effect in the orchestra and the chorus, and enjoy what is really a phenomenal piece of music.”