Features

Doctoral Dissertation

Carma Wadley

Deseret News | Sunday, April 4, 2010

Now one more thing can be added to his list of credits: subject of a doctoral dissertation.

Matthew Thompson, a doctoral student at the Kansas University, recently completed his dissertation on the instrumental conceptions of Gates' choral arrangements. His premise was that the introductions and interludes were instrumental in character, which is unusual for choral works.

"He felt it gave them a thematic unity that was very successful," Gates says.

It has been an amazing experience, the 88-year-old musician says. There are numerous doctoral dissertations on Bach, Beethoven, Chopin. "I was dumbfounded to find out he was studying me. I did not ever think I would be the subject of something like that."

Another unusual aspect is the fact that most doctoral students defend their dissertation in front of a committee of five faculty members in a private room on campus. But in this case, Thompson appeared not just before his committee, but in a campus auditorium before an audience of about 1,000. He not only presented a verbal summary of his dissertation, but he then conducted one of the university's choral ensembles in excerpts from three of Gates' musical creations.

Gates attended the event and also was asked to conduct a seminar for student composers. "The audience was indeed warm in its response to both the program and my presence," he says. "I never dreamed of something like this. It was a massive surprise."

Gates is probably most known locally for his religious music, such as the score for "Promised Valley," music for hymns such as "Our Savior's Love" and "Ring Out, Wild Bells," and various other works such as his "Book of Mormon Symphony," which served as the soundtrack for the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

But Thompson's dissertation focused on three of Gates' secular arrangements: "Londonderry Air," Cole Porter's "So In Love With You Am I" and Debussy's "Maid With the Flaxen Hair."

What Gates finds even more interesting is that the topic was not suggested by Thompson, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by his major professor, Paul Tucker, an African-American who is "a brilliant musician but has no ties to the (LDS) church," Gates says. "How he became familiar with my work I don't know."

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