Sunday, February 21, 2010

Working with the fine choirs of Illinois State University

Part One-

This past Wednesday, February 17th I was on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal, IL. Sarah Graham, whom I first met at a Central Division ACDA convention in Indianapolis in 2004, has planned a concert of all new, in manuscript music by *gasp* living composers to be performed by Belle Voix, ISU's premiere auditioned women's ensemble. Sarah asked me to come down and give the choir some composer insight on the two pieces by me that she has programmed for this concert, "God Says Yes to Me" and "Eve's Confession". Since I would be there for Belle Voix, we also decided that I would also visit super awesome Director of Choral Activities Karyl Carlson's Concert Choir (the top SATB choir) and also Sarah's unauditioned (yet very talented and enthusiastic) Women's Glee.

(Sarah Graham)

So with Belle Voix we started right in on "God Says Yes to Me". This is somewhat of a musical theater setting of a cool poem by Kaylin Haught- here's the text, and btw, Kaylin actually wrote extra verses for this setting, since her original is a little short for tune-writin':

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
what if I cavort with squawking saints
forage with a crowd of long legged water angels
sail with a regatta of white pelicans
sing glory hallelujah with the cormorants
drying their wings over the water
and she said Baby I made you for this
cavort as you wish
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

An amazing poem, eh? I was originally attracted to the humor of this poem- imagine my surprise when I found out that it's been quoted in sermons, but then you realize, it is a wonderful affirmation that God wants us to be happy! Some may object to God being a woman (whatever...) and in my setting God answers in a bluesy jazz (maybe God is a beatnik?). The point is this- it's a fun, creative, life-affirming poem- people need to lighten up on any criticism of this poem!

Well really Belle Voix had no problem overanalyzing the text or having hangups with it- they have become very busy having fun with it! We worked on the tempi of the swing and getting in and out of transitions. It's going to be great when they get it all worked up and staged, and student conductor Kara Vombrack is doing a great job preparing the piece. FYI, the first performance of this piece was by Sandra Snow's amazing group at Michigan State (in 2006 I think) where they staged almost every piece on their program. Another recent performance by Iris Levine's Vox Femina in LA was a big hit with audiences there.

We then worked on "Eve's Confession", a sugar-crazed deconstruction of Adam, Eve, some apple fritters and so on-- a witty text by Diane Lockward (from the collection "Eve's Red Dress").

a review can be read here


Sunday morning I slipped
out of bed, ran to the bakery,
and bought two apple
fritters, bulging
with fruit and slathered
with sweet white frosting—
breakfast in bed for me
and my husband.
While he slept on
in innocence, ribcage
peacefully rising
and falling, the kitchen
filled with essence
of apple. And oh!
those fritters looked
divine. I broke
off a sample—wickedly
good—then another
and another.
Of course, it was
my husband’s fritter
I sampled. I stuffed
my mouth. Globs
of tart gooey apples slid
down my throat, apple
after apple, and chunks
of dough, crusty
from the fryer.
I could feel
my cholesterol rising,
arteries hardening, and I
didn’t care. That fritter
was delicious.
As the calories
mounted, guilt entered
the kitchen. And still,
that pastry beguiled me.
“Eat of this fritter,” it called.
“Okay,” I said, “one last bite,”
but knew I was going to fall
and fall, knew in my evil
heart I was going
to eat it all.

The setting is very uptempo with a clangy piano part and vocal parts that accentuate Eve's obsession with the apple fritters and the sugar overloaded frosting. We worked on bumping up the tempi for excitement and then talked about ways to make my faux organum/quasi Dies Irae work staging-wise toward the end. It was a blast to try some ideas on how to bring this creative text to life, and Sarah surprised everyone by serving up apple fritters at the end of rehearsal-- talk about getting your singers into a piece!

(Karyl Carlson)

Belle Voix has been directed by Karyl Carlson until this year, and they are an amazingly confident, advanced group of singers. Their enthusiasm for working on new music is really exciting and Karyl (and continuing now with Sarah) has developed this group into a top tier collegiate women's choir. If you get a chance to see them in concert, do it! Note: the concert containing these two pieces will be on March 21st at ISU.

Coming up- Part Two- working with the ISU Concert Choir and Women's Glee

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