Composer hits high note with latest piece

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
John Lloyd, church organist by day and composer of orchestra music by night, holds his latest piece to be published, “Fantasy on Themes.”

Pennsylvania-based J.W. Pepper, the world’s largest sheet music distributor, has selected John Lloyd’s “Fantasy on Themes” as its editor’s choice for string orchestras.

Lloyd, a resident of London, is thrilled to finally see the spotlight shine on the six-minute piece, which he composed in 1999 for high school violin, viola, cello and string bass.

When he originally sent the handwritten score to his editor at Neil A. Kjos Music Co., he was told it was “not the right fit” at the time.

Six years later, Lloyd got a call from an old friend, George Buckbee, a retired professor of music and opera chorus master. Buckbee coordinates an annual chamber music festival in Stockton, Calif., and wanted to know if Lloyd had a string piece suitable for the event. Lloyd sent him several options; Buckbee chose “Fantasy on Themes.”

On Jan. 29, 2006, members of the Stockton and Sacramento symphonies performed Lloyd’s creation at Buckbee’s festival. Lloyd was in the audience—it was the first time he had heard the piece played. Prior to that day, he had only heard it in his head.

“It was superb. I couldn’t imagine a better performance of it,” Lloyd said.

From the festival’s CD recording, Lloyd excerpted “Fantasy on Themes” and sent it to Kjos with his score attached. This time, his editor heard what Lloyd had heard in his head all along. The music publisher loved the piece and decided to include it in their 2007 catalogue. Lloyd received the bonus news of J.W. Pepper’s endorsement last month.

The Composition

In describing “Fantasy on Themes,” Lloyd said, “It’s a piece that is accessible to high school musicians and has enough meat on it to give kids a musical challenge to perform it well.”

The piece includes parts for a string quartet and a string orchestra. Sometimes they play together, sometimes they play apart. Throughout, as the title indicates, they cover variations on a theme.

Lloyd’s inspiration came from John Merbecke’s “Book of Common Prayer Noted.” Merbecke was an organist for St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle in London, England, in the 1500s. He was best known for adapting the English language to the music of the reformed church.

Lloyd doesn’t recall how he first came upon Merbecke’s work; he just knows he loved it and wanted to use it as a springboard to a composition.

“Sometimes you think of an idea and you have to do something with it,” he said. “I’m sure authors are the same way. They get a story and they have to tell it.”

The Making of a Composer

Music has always been central to Lloyd’s life. As a child, he would visit his grandfather’s place in New York and attend events at the nearby Chautauqua Institution, a non-profit organization founded in 1874 to promote intellectual and spiritual growth. Chau-tauqua is noted for its summer series of arts program-ming, conducted in a variety of performance venues.

“I learned there to love going to the symphony rehearsals to see the conductors pull everything together,” said Lloyd, who upon graduating from high school joined The Chautauqua Opera Chorus. He sang with the company for 11 summers, during which time he also acted in several stage productions. It was at Chautauqua that he met Buckbee.

Lloyd earned his degree in music education from Otterbein College and his master of music theory from Duquesne University. He also was licensed as a teacher of singing at the Guild Hall School of Music and Drama in England.

For 33 years, Lloyd was a junior high choral director and general music teacher for the Woodland Hills School District in Pittsburgh, Pa. His tenure also included 12 years as a high school orchestra director and junior high string teacher.

Not long after his retirement in 1993, Lloyd moved to Madison County. For the past 12 years, he has been the organist at First Presbyterian Church in London, where his brother, Tom, directs the choir. In addition to writing arrangements for Tom’s London Silver Cornet Band, Lloyd actively writes for orchestras, choruses and concert bands in the United States and abroad.

With compositions suitable for elementary to high school orchestras, Lloyd’s canon of published works includes “Coventry Carol,” which he originally wrote for his string students in Pittsburgh. The piece, his first composition, is a bestseller at Kjos. The publisher also distributes Lloyd’s “St. Denio Variations” for junior high and “Them and Us,” a piece for elementary students that pits the high strings against the low strings.

Lloyd’s published works for full orchestras include “Chester,” based on a Revolutionary War march, and “A Hectic Overture,” the parts for which he created during daily walks around the parking lot outside his Pittsburgh apartment. “A Hectic Overture” won the National School Orchestra Composition Contest in 1994. Orchestras across the United States have performed the piece. Lloyd even flew to England to conduct a rehearsal of “Hectic” at a school where a friend serves as headmaster.


Lloyd hopes “Fantasy on Themes” travels just as far and wide.

While he has the backing of a major music publisher and a major distributor, Lloyd is doing all he can to promote the newly published piece himself. He plans to send the sheet music to contacts here and abroad, including Upper Arlington High School, the Springfield Symphony, the Oslo Chamber Orchestra in Norway, and his colleagues in England, among many others.

“I also hope someone will pick it up and play it at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic,” Lloyd said. The clinic, held annually in Chicago in December, attracts hundreds of music educators. A listing with the Ohio Music Education Association is another goal. Lloyd has achieved both with other pieces he has published.

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