Monday, September 27, 2010

When Jesus Wept- in sixteen voices?

Hugo Distler, 20th century German polyphonist
(who died way to soon)

I'm feeling the need to write something really out there- even if it's still just new ideas (for me) in extended counterpoint and lots of voices. I have always had this weird idea of doing a 40 voice piece a la Tallis' Spem in Alium though maybe not that extreme! The tune I have thought would be cool treated like this is Billings' "When Jesus Wept", which obviously is already a simple four part canon. So I am finally going to give it a shot- maybe 16 voices at max? Any university folks want to read this through if and when I get it done?

Part of this is a concern that I may become more and more pigeonholed as a children's choir and women's choir composer. In a few months I will have four new releases (from Roger Dean and Walton) and all four are for treble voices. It's not like I haven't submitted mixed pieces- but they just haven't accepted the SATB stuff lately. In general I feel I need to keep writing more and more SATB pieces at various difficulty levels.I am excited that the Atlanta Sacred Chorale is doing my piece Morning Person (SATB/piano 4 hands) in October. It's a setting of a delightfully creative poem by New Orleans poet Vassar Miller. This is one of my SATB piece which I think is highly successful, and is published by Roger Dean.

Anyway, as I work on this mostly polyphonic When Jesus Wept I am going to try to do some edgy stuff in the sense that it will be truly polyphonic and may wander into strange tonal areas- I am going to try to write individual voices first and only later try to reconcile them to each other. I may even write some of them on scraps of paper and then patch some parts of the piece together- a process I used to some extent WAY back in college. In other words, write very individual voices, and as scraps of paper, they exist only in their own world- then later, throw them together and adjust them as little as possible to reconcile them. We'll see where this goes, but this will be a piece I am writing for myself- kind of like a unique 15 minute piece I wrote called "1944", which sets a WWII poem by Hilda Doolittle and incorporates elements of the Bach Christmas Oratorio (yes,the bombing of London, Bach, and Christmas- well it's all implied in the H.D. text). I was really fortunate to get a performance by Tom Koharchik in Pittsburgh of this piece but zero performances since then. It's for SATB and strings and pretty visceral at times. As I said, composers write things like this for themselves most of the time-- we know that traditional publishers run screaming from this kind of music.

Update: I have started the piece and to many folks it may seem actually pretty conservative- for me the biggest challenge is to not fall into my own musical cliches and to push myself to write these independent voices. I have decided on using two SATB choirs and to write in eight voices for each choir- thus I will at times be in sixteen voices plus have the added amazing potential of polyphony between the two choirs. I am even toying with having one of the choirs be textless part or all of the time- perhaps that choir is simply commenting musically without words on what the "with words" choir is singing and saying? This all has to be worked out!

As I said earlier,I'm really going to try hard to write things where the meter in some voices is set apart, as if voices coexist in sound but not really in meter. To prepare for this I have been looking at some of Hugo Distler's music and been asking advice on ChoralNet about music without bars, dotted barlines, multiple meters, bracketed phrasings (such as brackets marking hemiolas)a la early Baroque music and all this stuff. I've already received some great advice both on how the music could be notated and how easy or hard some of those notations may be to grasp by anyone rehearsing and singing the piece. I'm also not in a hurry to write the piece an I am liking the idea that I can putz away at this now and then without feeling like I have to be in a hurry.

More updates as I continue, for those who may be interested!

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