Patti Drennan has been joyfully energizing choirs with her singular style of writing since her initial publications in the 90’s. Her music leaps from the page with engaging melodies and innovative part-writing. From cool jazz to classic choral treatments, from festive hymn arrangements to expressive original ballads, her music speaks in sanctuaries and concert halls alike. An accomplished singer, teacher, director and pianist, this multi-talented is Oklahoma native shows no signs of slowing down. In this month’s COMPOSER OF THE MONTH Patti takes a moment to answer our question and give us a glimpse of her creative process. Enjoy!
What was the music of your youth?
I loved so many genres of music, including all Motown artists, 60’s girl groups, top- 40 artists, rhythm and blues, and then all the old favorite hymns and Stamps-Baxter style music.
What music do you listen to now? Gospel, specific Christian artists, country (some artists), bluegrass and of course, music our daughter, Emily sings or records!
Tell us about your faith journey, and how it influences your musical choices. I gave my profession of faith at age 11 at the First Baptist Church in Medford, OK. In the earlier years before joining there, I attended a tiny church in Caldwell, Kansas, where my grandmother was church pianist for over 60 years. There I watched her “enhance” the hymn accompaniment with extra fills, bass note “walk-ups” and I looked forward to going to her house to play the piano (as we yet owned one.) Attending church every Sunday encouraged me to watch, learn and then play my own piano and saxophone offertories through parental and grandparental encouragement. Years later, I’ve played and sung countless music specials, funerals, weddings and I followed in the footsteps of my Grandmother and Mother, as I am a 3rd generation female church musician, with our daughter, Emily continuing as a 4th generation musician who frequently leads worship at Redeemer Church in New York City.
Name four things about yourself that would surprise people. 1.) Having perfect pitch has been much more than an asset than a hindrance. 2)My first published anthem, “Clap Your Hands” is still my biggest seller. 3.) I studied a lyric sheet sent from the late J. Paul Williams and wrote the entire song in my head while soaking in the tub after a hard day of teaching school! 4) I fulfilled a bucket-list moment and have been singing in a Black gospel choir for two years. What a glorious way to worship in concerts!
What projects are currently on your horizon? I just completed writing a piano solo book and a number of anthem assignments, and I recently recorded a 10-song “Mother Daughter Christmas CD” with our daughter in New York City. I continue to work on writing meaningful anthems for church as well as pieces for school choirs.
When are you most creative? As a 28-year choral music teacher, I had to “find” times to write, including during Spring Break and mostly late at night. The habit stuck, and I find myself very creative from about 10:15 p.m. until 2:30 a.m., or when the Coke Zero runs out!
What’s your sacred space? In my studio with my bibles, hymnals, computer and keyboard. I love putting on headphones and singing and playing whatever comes to me. That is where I get into my zone of being creative and in communion with God. I am most thankful when I am using the musical gift given to me by Him.
Which composers/arrangers inspire you? John Williams, Hans Zimmer
What do you do when you’re not composing? I love getting to record in studio sessions with our daughter when she produces albums in NYC. I love to lead music reading sessions for publishers, participate in composer weekends, attend alumni football games with college friends, attend movies and travel with my husband to hear concerts or visit with friends.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring writers? Don’t give up! My first arrangement was sent to an editor of a now non-existent company and I heard nothing from them for over a year. I told myself that they didn’t like it, I couldn’t call myself a “composer” and wasn’t encouraged. It turned out that the editor had left the company and all the submissions from MANY writers were found months later in a box tucked away in a store room! I’d also tried to include “White Christmas” in the medley, which was a very difficult song to license. I later learned that writers can contact the company after 6 weeks or so just to check in to see if the committee has made a decision. In addition, feel free to collaborate with others. If your text-writing isn’t as wonderful as your choral writing, work with a colleague to share your talents. Attend choral writing symposiums, talk to other composers, and keep writing!
Editor’s note: Please check out these songs by Patti Drennan.