Strong Arms to Hold Back to Dark

July 4th, 2024 (premiere)

Anne Laver, Organ
Michael Cox, Trombone
commissioned by the American Guild of Organists 2024 National Conference.

for Trombone and Organ


“That’s all childhood is, after all: strong arms to hold back the dark, a story to keep the shadows dancing, and a candle to mark the long journey into day.” – Seanan McGuire

I have always loved the organ since I was a child, and still approach the instrument with reverence and awe. Back in the 90’s, I attended four Juilliard graduation ceremonies: two for myself and two for my husband (clarinetist Benjamin Fingland). At the conclusion of these ceremonies, it was tradition to hear John Weaver perform Widor’s “Toccata” for the postlude, which still – to this day – is one of my favorite pieces. Even now, I always feel like dancing when I hear it.

So when asked to write a piece with organ, I already had a bunch of my favorite sounds in mind – in addition to the many I have heard in church concerts and services over the years as a violist. I am also equally in love with the trombone for some of the same reasons I love the organ – how it can easily be beautiful and delicate before unleashing some of the most powerful and expressive sounds imaginable to the ears. I was inspired by the above quote about childhood as I started the journey of my son’s senior year in High School, while also reflecting on the ever-present question of “where did the time go?”.

The work starts with an emotional “monster” in the dark that gives way to a call for tenderness (from by a caregiver, a mentor, a friend, or even oneself…?). It ends with my version of a rock concert without wires – an unapologetic anthem of sorts to celebrate making it through another tough moment in time.

I am so deeply thankful to the American Guild of Organists for this commission and for giving me a chance to celebrate all I love about these instruments.