06 January 2009

[...] Because I Could and It Was the 80s

(One friend's justification for growing a mustache.)

Had an inquiry after more, really, as my publisher shortly after took an order for 20 octavos and percussion parts for Timbrel & Dance, a psalm setting whose memory still sends tremors of fear along the spines of some choristers who participated in the première.

For a few years previous, much of the sacred choral music which had been asked of me was to be sung by a small choir of modest musical means. A composer rises to the challenge of writing within a certain ensemble's technical abilities, of course. Still, over time, I felt that I wanted to write something more, leave us say, gnarly for choir.

Then, too, there arose the possibility of having such a piece sung by the choir at St Paul's in Boston, then under the most capable direction of Mark Engelhardt, who would take care to rehearse the piece amply.

Subject to subsequent memory-jogging . . . I don't recall at the moment just why I lit on the idea of three percussionists accompanying the choir. Maybe it is as simple a matter as this: that I started sketching the tenor-bass ostinato which sets the piece in motion, and spontaneously felt that some rhythmic counterpoint would be just the thing. Memories of taking part in Scott DeVeaux's African drumming seminar in Charlottesville, still vivid years later, were probably part of the driver there.

Even when the tenor and bass are together (rhythmically), it demands some attention and precision from them; and then when the tenor pulls 'out of phase' from the bass (m.41ff, e.g.) there does not remain even the shadow of a margin of error.

There were moments where suggestions from the text inspired 'turns' in the setting, such as Praise him with the trumpet-call which finds musical application the soprano/alto Hallelujah in mm. 35-36; and the sopranos divisi in seconds for loud-clanging cymbals (m.91ff.).

Even allowing for a few things which ideally should be fixed, the première is a fair document of the piece:

[ recording ]

1 comment:

J.Z. Herrenberg said...

I like Timbrel & Dance a lot, Karl. Its short ternary span contains real musical meat. The re-entry of the percussion in the middle section is quite electrifying...