27 January 2013

Preface to a performance

Good afternoon. You’ve already heard how beautifully the choir sing under Paul’s direction, so I needn’t explain to you why a composer would wish to write a piece for them.  They’ve already made my talk a bit easier.

When Paul and I first met, I had already composed quite a bit of sacred choral music, actually.  And some of these pieces, Paul has had the choir sing from time to time over the years.  Many of the pieces in my ‘pre-existing catalogue,’ for one reason or another, did not quite suit.  So came a day when Paul and I talked about a new piece I might write for the choir.  And the conversation hadn’t even warmed up, when we happily lit upon this James Vila Blake text, which (if I do not mistake) is employed as a unison reading perhaps every Sunday morning service here at First Church.

As to how I wrote the piece – again, before Paul and I made our mutual acquaintance, I had served briefly as Interim Choir Director at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St Paul here in Boston.  While it is music which I have sung now and again practically from the time I first began to sing in a choir as a teenager, the task of directing a choir enriched my appreciation for the great Tudor and Elizabethan polyphonists: Byrd, Tallis, Gibbon, e.g.

I do not pretend that the idea is at all original with me, composers have made fruitful use of the practice for a long time . . . I took a sort of snapshot of that classic musical style, and adopted some of the musical means, while retaining my rather more musically recent sensibilities of materials, and of how the materials might agreeably play together.

One last observation of the piece:  in writing the musical setting, when I reached the end of the James Vila Blake text, that was the end of my final draught, and I sent it along to Paul for his thoughts. He responded favorably – so favorably, that his one complaint was, that it was too short. (And believe me, a composer far prefers being told that a score is too short, rather than that it runs on rather too long, thank you very much.)

So it was essentially at Paul’s behest, that I added a melismatic Amen, a musical notion which (to echo a remark Jeeves might make to Bertie Wooster) has generally given satisfaction.  The moral of the story is perhaps: If at some point you hear anyone offer the opinion that A Real Artist never entertains suggestions from anyone else, you can tell them from me that they hardly know what they’re talking about.

I thank you, and I do earnestly hope you enjoy the music.

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