Guilty Pleasure: I Heart John Rutter’s Music

Last week, I had the privilege of substitute rehearsing the West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts’ Northern Lights Chorale. One of the pieces handed to me was For the Beauty of the Earth by John Rutter. Admittedly, it has been a long time since I have seen the piece or performed it, but my mind was instantly brought back to those warm, fuzzy feelings I had when I performed John Rutter pieces back in high school and college.

British composer John Rutter was one of those rare birds in the classical music scene of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s: an unashamedly tonal composer in an era when everyone was trying to be “original.” Even in our current day he is a bit of an anachronism: he lacks the golden mane of Eric Whitacre or the soundtrack-like qualities of Ola Gjeilo (which is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed music from both those composers). Yet his music is tuneful, pleasant, and memorable. What’s more, his music is fun to sing. You find yourself humming his melodies later in the day when you’re working or getting ready for bed.

He mastered Christmas music, church music, and folk songs. I fondly remember listening to his recordings of the Cambridge Singers (which he founded) as a teenager and mimicking that classic British straight-tone.  Then, I’d throw on some Robert Shaw just to let that vibrato rip.

He’s not considered new or hip any more. Perhaps conductors think his music is too cheesy. I can’t remember the last time I heard his music on an ACDA concert. But he wrote some really cool stuff. Here’s the University of Utah Singers under Brady Allred performing Cantate Domino. This song is a blast to sing.

Cantate Domino is vintage John Rutter. Highly melodic music lines coupled with text-inspired metrical changes and beautiful harmonies.

Maybe it’s time we start looking back to his music. In an era of political and socio-economic upheaval, sometimes you need something a little old-fashioned to help steady the nerves. Remember, cheese is a vital part of a well-balanced diet! I unapologetically declare him to be one of my guilty pleasures.

Here’s a list of some of my favorites that I’ve performed. This list is not meant to be exhaustive or ranked. Enjoy!

Christmas Music

What Sweeter Music; Pretty much anything in the 100 Carols for Choirs; Go Tell It on the Mountain; Candlelight Carol

Sacred Anthems

For the Beauty of the Earth (obviously); All Things Bright and Beautiful; The Lord Bless You and Keep You; A Clare Benediction; God Be in My Head; O Be Joyful in the Lord; A Gaelic Blessing; I Will Sing with the Spirit; Open Thou Mine Eyes; The Heavenly Aeroplane (seriously fun piece for children)

Major Works

Gloria; Requiem; Magnificat


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