Monday, May 21, 2012

Heartlands: A round on "When We Sing"

In preparation for the GALA choral Festival 2012 in Denver, an email went out to composers who have been involved with GALA, or who have been commissioned in the past by GALA choruses, artistic directors, and other interested composers. At every Festival there are evening concert blocks, with volunteer mass choruses made up of the members and delegates. There are always sing-along moments included in these events, and during the opening and closing ceremonies—this is a choral festival, after all, so sing-alongs are likely.

This year, there was a new idea, and this is where the composers come in, and I quote:

Why not create a body of simple, songs that could be taught on the spot in a sing-along setting and then taken out into the world by our choruses?

As a GALA friend and composer, you are invited to create a short round/canon or chant for GALA Festival 2012. All songs will be taught from stage by rote, but delegates will be able to download the complete collection of songs to take home to their own chorus to be shared, copied, taught, sung and performed without restriction all over the world. We want to get this music OUT there!


The call was for rounds, canons, chants, simple enough to be taught by rote from the stage in a few minutes, should include multiple voice parts not restricted to any particular voice so that men, women, and others could all join in, and be unaccompanied (a capella) vocal music.

So I joined in, and wrote two short pieces, a round and a canon, and sent them off. Hopefully they'll be part of the Festival mix. If the response is overwhelming, there won't be time to do all the pieces submitted, so they'll pick and choose.

But I thought this would be a great way to both join in, as a composer, and present my work to the GALA members. After all, it would be nice to be commissioned again to write music for a GALA chorus, as I was last year. I wrote "Heartlands" on commission, both words and music, and selected movements will be performed at the 2012 GALA Festival in Denver, in July. Participating in the GALA round/canon call would be one good way to get my music known by others, and also be a bit of free advertising for "Heartlands."

So while I wrote one completely new piece, I also took a refrain from the finale movement of "Heartlands," titled "When We Sing," and arranged it into a two-part a capella round.

Here's the music for it:


(Click on image for larger version.)

One group of singers will read through the first line, then go on to the second line while another group of singers does the first line. You go around and around till deciding to stop, which is how rounds are constructed. It's a very old musical form; if you think about it, you know some nursery rhymes and campfire songs in this form, such as "Row Row Row Your Boat." For this piece, I also opened it up to free harmonizing on the repeat, after every group has gone around the form once or twice.

I wrote two pieces in two days for this call for compositions, and sent them off right away. As I said, one was completely new, and this one was taken from "Heartlands." That ties it to the larger work, and hopefully makes connections and gets people interested in the larger work. And in my work as a composer in general. Nothing would make me happier than to have to do it all again.

Writing in short forms can be challenging. It's like writing haiku: you have to compress as much as possible, to get in as much information as you can into a very small space. Short forms such as rounds are technically challenging, as well, for needing to be circular and layered. You can think of a round as a variety of musical Moebius strip, with the musical line constantly turning back in on itself, each layer interacting with other parts of the music to add up to a larger, synergistic whole. Each line has to be checked against the others for effect, contrast, and similarity. So you end up thinking in circles, as you're writing in circles. Or at least I do.

This was quite a bit of fun. A fun challenge, and a good occasion for which to write a new piece. We'll see what develops next.

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