Local composer and church musician William Ferris carries a currently unfashionable torch for English anthems and French organ music–his stylistic sympathies lie with John McCabe, William Mathias, and Charles-Marie Widor, to name a few of the more or less neglected fellow tonalists he and his 40-voice choir have championed over and over again. But Ferris isn’t exactly an outsider here–he studied with Leo Sowerby, an influential force in Chicago in the 40s and 50s, and his works have been performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And his latest opus–an updated miracle play called Angels that premieres this Friday at the church he attends–may be ambitious enough to boost his reputation further, especially among those who appreciate any major addition to the choral literature. Ferris had toyed with the idea of writing about angels since the late 80s, long before New Age dabblers slapped them all over greeting cards and coffee-table books, and started work on the play about two years ago. He took inspiration from four stained-glass windows at the church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel; designed by John Kinsella, they depict archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. With text pieced together from various biblical stories compiled by Ferris’s longtime collaborator John Vorrasi, Angels tells their tale, emphasizing holy pageantry and ending with a loud, blazing climax. The neoclassical and utterly singable music is meant to recall the sweet lyricism of Ned Rorem and Samuel Barber as well as the lush harmonies of Poulenc. The organs at the front and back of Mount Carmel (played by Thomas Weisflog and Dexter Bailey), along with an ensemble of mostly wind and percussion instruments, will accompany the vocal soloists: sopranos Sunny Joy Langton and Susan Wolz, tenor Vorrasi, and baritone Bruce Hall. I can’t wait to hear percussionists Patricia Dash and Doug Waddell–two of the best in town–egging on the heated argument between Lucifer and Michael. Friday, 8 PM, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 690 W. Belmont; 773-325-2000.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.