When You Stand With Me

There's not much we can do about the plebisite in Australia at the moment. All voters are being asked by mail if they would support a change to the law to allow same sex marriage. You can imagine the sentiments being expressed for and against in various media and social media.

One of the awful aspect of this is how it must feel for the folks being voted on. What an exercise in humiliation. I'm sorry. I'm sorry you have to go through this and all the virtiol it has stirred up. 

Anyway this is the best thing I can think of to do. If you and your choir feel the same way, please sing this. I know I'm totally hetero normy and I hope you will forgive that I wrote a story which isn't mine.

The licence is free. Sing it. Photocopy it. Share it. As you wish. I hope it helps.  

I'm talking to a dear friend and professional tenor about making a recording of this, so we'll see where that leads.

UPDATE:

Here's a solo version. In a higher key which I think would be better for soloists.

 

x

Nativity - part two

Key Sig: Starts in D, moves to E

Time Sig: 4/4

Parts: SATB plus piano

Complexity: comfortable medium for community choir 

Now to the next exciting instalment of the nativity. Part two of probably eight. 

You'll find sheet music and rehearsal tracks for part one here.

This is a 15 or so minute work I wrote nearly 10 years ago. I found it recently and am brushing it up a section at a time. If you're an adventurous sort you could follow along, teaching it to your choir one week at a time, as I release the instalents - hoping that the succeeding sections will be good. hahaha.

I have so many recordings to share with you from my recent sacred concert and also from my community choir who have nearly finished recording the entire Il Festino. What I might do is make some separate pages of these on this site. Some of the songs came up so incredibly and  will mean you'll be able to hear real live people singing some of the pdfs I've shared here.

Nativity - part one

the-holy-family-with-saint-francis-jacob-van-oost (1).jpg

Key - C major

Time Sig - 4/4

Parts - SATB and piano

Complexity - medium. Perfectly manageable for a robust community choir.

 

Maybe you are much more organised than me, and you have all your Christmas music sorted. Well good for you - and if that's the case, this may be something you can consider for 2018!

I wrote this nativity the best part of ten years ago, and put it on with a choir I was directing at the time. I came across it a few weeks ago and thought I'd brush it up to do this year.

It's about 35 pages long, and goes for about 15 minutes. I started working on it last week, hoping I could be clever and release the whole thing yesterday - but I'm learning - these things take time. So I'll brush up a section a week, and you can follow along! Maybe there'll be seven or eight sections - I'll start at the beginning and work forward - and we'll be done by the end of October!

Here are the rehearsal tracks for section one.

The Morning Star

I'm thrilled to be able to share with you the first recording from last Sunday's concert. The Morning Star, composed for Bethany Hill and choir.

Bethany's luminous voice and exquisite musicality were such a joy to write for. She is an early music specialist and has shared with me recordings of some of the music she most delights in. This music has such life and brightness, so I have tried to write for her with that flavour.

I felt Bethany would love the vibrancy of Hemiola and made changing meter a feature of this song. To me the brightest of modes - the lydian - communicates the exquisite aching beauty of starlight. But because Bethany is a celt I wanted to give her a thread to her musical home, so also drew on the Mixolydian. And I tried to write colatura that was simply her voice dancing. 

One of the features of Bethany's beautiful voice is how it just keeps going up and up and up, and I had to consider that to compose for this requires care. If her whole line was stratospheric it wouldn't be obvious, the high needs to come from somewhere (lower obviously) to be brought into relief. (think of how much preparation Mozart gives our ears for the Queen of the Night.)

For the text, the starlight in Bethany's voice, drew me towards the music of the spheres. The ancient idea that the celestial bodies were contained on concentric rings around the earth and these rings move, creating music. This thrilling idea means we are surrounded with music from these spheres, but because it is a constant sound, we don't hear it. Researching this concept led me to text from Walt Whitman. I took several lines from his poem Salut Au Monde and also drew on Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man. I wanted the biblical idea of the morning star as an Angel, and I wanted her singing to be her agency of love for the humans she watches over.

When I wrote for the choir, I tried to convey the sense that the work was a chorale or hymn of the earth. That it was people singing, to their star, and their star singing back to them. I wanted a slight shimmer of dissonance for the humans. We struggle. And now is a time that feels slightly volatile and uncertain. My favourite choral writing is Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil. I am inspired by the way he builds and drops his choral sound - from a roar that fills the entire sky to the tiniest thread of sound - the light of a single candle. It's so thrilling and I relish how he can do this and make it magnificent and not in the least affected. 

This wonderful choir was formed for this concert, and I am filled with gratitude for the singers who made this work possible.

Thank you to Ray Thomas and Peter Day for the recording. 

Bethany can be contacted via facebook.
The sheet music is here.

The Morning Star

I am the song of the planets turning.
I sing the longest day. I sing the midnight sun
as she turns on slanted rings. I sing the sun.

Sing Gloria.

I am the song of the earth.
I sing the oceans to the shore. I sing the four winds to the far lands
I sing the storm rising in the desert. I sing the earth.

Sing Gloria.

I am the song of the pulsing breath. The lovers’ ballad
The soldier’s oath. The crone’s ancient story
I sing the baby’s sleeping sigh. I sing the breath.

I am the song of the planets turning and I sing the pilgrims home.

Sing Gloria.

And In The Centre We Dance

We come spinning out of nothingness.
Scattering stars like dust.
The stars form a circle
and in the centre we dance.

Rumi

I have neglected this supposedly weekly blog while I've been madly finishing up solo pieces for my concert next weekend. Rather than hold off another week before I get back to you - I'll share one of these pieces.

I wrote this one for Emlyn (husband/baritone) many years agoc as part of an Oratorio and have reworked it for the concert, where we will do a few pieces from the original work.
The Oratorio was called Letters For A Queen and follows the journey of Merchior to Bethlehem.

It's quite chilly in our house which means the piano's tuning has come completely undone, and Emlyn has taken to wearing a blanket cape. We are recording the concerts next weekend so you will be able to hear it done properly but I thought you might like a sneaky peak. x

I'll be back in a couple of weeks. Hopefully with some wonderful recordings to share.

If you live in Adelaide and want to come, book through https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/and-in-the-centre-we-dance-tickets-36086536803?aff=es2

 

 

Find My Way for Choir

Next week Emlyn and I are off to Melbourne to run a workshop and choir for this concert - supporting the Australian Cancer Council. Seems like a good concert to bring out Find My Way. I think we will do the verses as solos and then the choir join in where I've written it out for four parts. I shared this song a few posts back - as a solo. The words are inspired by some of my mum's recent reflections on her experiences dealing with breast cancer.

If are in Melbourne and would like to be involved, please book online. And come and introduce yourself won't you?

Then a significant number of choristers from my gorgeous Adelaide choir Voices in the Wilderness are bringing Banchieri's Il Festino to Newport Festival, with medieval instrument accompaniment from Ray Smith and his near missus Kerryn, If you're around Saturday 1st July 2pm, please come!!! At the Newport Substation.

Yesterday I presented a workshop in sightsinging, thanks to the support of the SA Branch of the Australian National Choral Association. I shared some of the work I've done so far for the Kodaly scholarship - composing choral pieces that carefully and sequentially develop sightsinging skills. The folks at this workshop sang the songs gorgeously! And the songs worked - it was exciting indeed. (You can never be totally sure until real singers try it out.) We sang Find My Way, and it made me cry. 

 

Find My Way

Key: D Major

Time Sig: 4/4

Complexity - Fairly Simple - tune has only d,r,m and s and introduces tika tika (semiquavers to the fancy folks) It's a bit of a pop song - I think it suits piano or guitar accompaniment.

Primary Singing Lesson

About five years ago I stopped teaching private voice lessons in primary schools. My instincts at the time were that while I was not doing any harm, I wasn't doing anything particularly useful. I believed little people gained more from singing in an excellent children's choir than they did from private vocal lessons. After that, in my own studio, I only took on private primary students who needed remedial lessons - little people who were doing something that was interfering with easy, in tune singing. Once they had sorted out whatever it was, I sent them off to a choir and said - see you in ten years!

Then last year, I watched James Cuskelly in the documentary "When We Sing", working with little children. James' work with tiny children is so joyous and intelligent and musical. And for the umpteenth time in my life, James inspired me.

I thought - what is the goal of teaching singing to primary children? To lay the foundation that self expression through the voice is natural. That musical expression through the voice is natural. That musical learning through singing is natural. In a nutshell -  I could take the lessons from Kodaly training with James and Reka and Rachael and others at UQ and bring them to private singing lessons.

And then, in the way of these things, early this year, two jobs just happened to come up at primary schools so I went back (or forward) to teaching private primary lessons.

So here's how I now approach primary school singing lessons. The lessons are divided up into seven sections. If you are following along the top of the piano, we work from left to right.

1. Quick Chat

A wise music teacher once pointed out to me that instrumental tutors have this great opportunity in a child's week - we offer one on one attention from an adult. This can be a rare and special thing. She said to remember this on the bad days - when we feel like we haven't given students a PROPER music lesson. We gave them attention and that is a great thing. With this in mind, I like to start with a chat! I ask kids what they've been doing - it's an open question and usually encourages some information sharing.

2. Warm Up Songs

ladybugs.jpg

This begins by handing the student their ladybug shaker. If they need reminding - it's the ta beat on the foot, a titi on their ladybug and a groovy version of a pentatonic song from Sing It Yourself - 220 American Pentatonic Folk Songs. This is about a few things. Singing with a feeling of beat. (If you've ever made music with singers who don't have a deeply felt beat you'll know what an issue this is.) And shared beat. I have my own ladybug shaker and I wear my noisy shoes so my beat is loud and clear. We are jamming together - working from one beat. We sing together and sing these lovely pentatonic songs in tune. I use American songs because American folk and gospel songs are the grandparents of the pop music the kids listen to. So the kids are at ease. There's a lot to do - keeping the beat, and titis, and singing and jamming with someone else. When kids have mastered this we can introduce different ostinatos on the ladybugs! For kids who are real naturals, I get them to try the challenging experiment of titi on the feet, ta on the ladybug. To keep 'em on their toes!

During this and the next segment, I can notice any issues and address them through modelling while we are singing. For eg, if the kids are tense I start wobble dancing. If they are flat I brighten my face. If they are shouting, I change the words to a light "voo" and they follow me.

3. Rounds

in a private lesson, rounds are brutal. Little people have to learn to hold a part by themselves. That's tough! So this is what we do - taking as many lessons as needed for each step to be secure. Of course for the naturals, we skip steps. (This is another great gift private tutors have - the learning tempo can be completely suited to each student.)

  • learn the round in unison
  • sing together, with the piano doing the second part
  • sing in canon, with me singing very quietly. Sometimes we 'go into our corners' or I step outside the teaching room! The kids usually smile when I tell them - this isn't normally OK but just now, please ignore your teacher! Sometimes the kids need revision of little bits that are going wrong. Sometimes I stay at the piano and give them an occasional, scaffolding note.
  • If you've sung in ensembles you know the feeling when everyone listens as they sing, and sings into the group sound. There is this magical feeling of traction as you click in. This is the last step, as the kids get used to singing in harmony and start to be able to sing and listen simultaneously. I slowly increase my volume and build the sound with them. It makes me a bit teary just thinking about it. 

4. Animal Noises

This seemingly silly segment is where the technical work happens.

We do mimicking and generally for my beginning kids I noodle around in F pentatonic, making up little tunes. Going down to middle C and up to top F - a comfy range for new trebles. 

For onset, we have monkey noises. To stop harsh glottal stops, we make sure the monkey is a little baby monkey. "Now when humans sing they go 'ha-ha-ha' but when baby monkeys sing they go 'a-a-a'. Can you be a baby monkey?" (For thoughts on teaching onset to young voices, and many other wise thoughts on singing pedagogy, please check out Karyn O'Connor's magnificent resource SingWise.)

For light mechanism we have the sooky pocket cow. "As you know normal sized cows go "MMMOOOO" but tiny little pocket cows (gestures) go "moo". I don't know why, but pocket cows are very sooky little creatures so when they say "moo" it sounds quite sooky. like this...". The kids like mooing to Brahms' lullaby. As time goes on, and depending on the student, we can glide from this little sound into a bigger sound and talk about it how this feels like gently stretching a hair elastic. 

For brightness we have the pussy cats who sing "Meow" and "Ngeow". And as time goes on and depending on the student, I get the kids to notice how the M and NG help their voice feel into their forehead and how the vowel feels in the same place.

For slowing exhallation, we sing the snake song. Counting the first S's off on our fingers - I start with four beats on s and build up over time.
ssssssssssssuper Sally snake
sssssssssssslithers on the sand
sssssssssssslithers in the sun
ssssssssssssuper Sally snake
For kids who have body awareness we notice how their trunk feels as they sssss and stays the same during the other words. For kids who don't, I just model the movement of the ribs staying out, using my hands, during the song and remind myself these brilliant little people mastered an entire language by the time they were five just through modelling.

I've been slowly collecting animals for this segment. I took the photo of the top of the piano a while ago, when my collection was limited to the chickens. Spotty chicken is chest voice - starry chicken is head voice. When the kids are pushing up in spotty, they have learnt to feel it and grab starry. They either just hold her, or toss her in the air. Sometimes we throw the chickens at each other, to get a feeling of forward sound. (But only with some students - I use throwing more with high school kids because I'm always concerned that little ones can easily turn this into pushing.)


5. Musicianship/Theory

If you teach using a Kodaly approach you will know that all elements of music theory can be taught through singing songs. If you haven't studied Kodaly - you should sort that out! I went to the Queensland Summer School. It changed my life. (There are other wonderful courses around Australia offered by different Kodaly branches.) Kodaly is a wonderful wonderful method for teaching theory to singing students. If you can't get to a summer school, invest in The Kodaly Method 1 by Lois Choksy. For other instruments, musical literacy is a standard part of lessons. It's important that we honour singing students by giving them the same power of literacy.

When I first taught primary singing, I made a theory book for singing students. On my list of things to do is rewrite this. As I'm planning to do a new, much revised edition, I'll share the old one here for you for free. 

6. Conscious Singing Technique

In an adult lesson, this segment might consitute half the lesson. For kids, this segment is the smallest part of their lesson. I like to introduce one tiny idea, being very careful the idea is simple and easy to do. We get it, then we apply it in a song. It might be lifting the pillars of fauces. "You've seen on cartoons that dangling bit in the back of people's mouths? And there's these arches either side of them? (Drawing if necessary) When you lift them up it feels like smiling on the inside - between your ears. (Thanks go to the mighty David Jones for this imagery).(Gesture, model) You do this when you've just been given a lovely surprise present and you say 'oh thank you'. Try it...". "Let's do it together in this song...". During my first stint of teaching primary school, years ago, I also made a tutor book for this. I also plan to significantly revise this. (Is it Oprah who says - I did as good as I knew how. When I knew better, I did better?) There is a lot I'm planning to do better - but it'll get you started!  

7. Singing Proper Songs

I've got a collection of songs I love teaching kids. We sing through a song or two from this collection, applying whatever technique they 'got' during the lesson. (I'm sure you have your own collection.) Or we just sing a song through because they've done enough application work and it's good to just sing. Finally some kids bring in their own pop song backing and the last three minutes of their lesson might be spent in karaoke with them trying to emulate a highly curated and worked into sound created in a studio for non pedagogical reasons. I figure the world will keep turning if we do this for three minutes, but I've never managed to come between the kids and the sound of the recording - they just try their darndest to emulate the sound they hear. Which means I can't teach them anything during this time. But it does mean they connect their singing with the song that currently matters to them, and share that with me, and that matters. 

 

Find My Way

This week a simple song. Just one melody and guitar chords. Next week I'll set it for choir, as part of the sightreading materials I'm developing. You'll notice it's d,r,m and s. And introduces tikatikas (semiquavers for the fancy folks).

This song started its life with the words "even in the dark I can still find my way". I thought the rhythm of "even in the" naturally fell into semiquavers. These words rolled around the floor of my mind for some weeks. I was concerned by them - they could easily widen out into a song that was saccharine and faux-uplifting. You know the sort? Bluck!

So I asked my mum, who in the last year published her first (non saccharine) poetry anthology and survived breast cancer, for her reflections on her midnight path. 

I used her words as the basis for this song, dedicated to my brave, brilliant and rather irrepressible mother. xx

 
 

Quest for Choristers

Tonight I'm launching a crowdsourcing campaign with a difference and I need your help.

This is a very special crowdsourcing campaign. I want to record my sacred compositions on August 13th in Adelaide. For this dream to become real - I need your help. But I don't need your money. I NEED YOUR VOICE.

There will be two concerts - 3pm at St Johns, 6pm at Epiphany and they will be recorded live for CD and youtube. The program includes four choral songs and I need a robust choir of wonderful singers to make this happen.

If you have a penchant for bringing new music to life and working with the composer during the process, please get involved. I need all parts, especially altos and tenors. The pieces are tonal and not weird, but they aren't easy and require folks who are confident.

If you are the sort of chorister who enjoys tuning your fifth to the basses overtones, bringing out an accidental cause you've noticed it's a leading note in a modulation, making decisions on your vowel placement based on your neighbours, company wide precision consonants, if you've discussed long into the night, over red wine, that after long consideration you have come to the conclusion that a little vibrato actually brings warmth and life to a choral sound, FANTASTIC. Give me a hoy. Also go you, you wonderful total choir nerd. xxx

If you know singers who would be interested - please invite them. If you have a choir - can you tap folks you know would be suitable on the shoulder?

Rehearsals are scheduled for Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons from July 20th to Aug 11. This outrageous number of rehearsals means if you can't make them all, because you already sing in three ensembles two of which are touring intermittently, you can come to some. FANTASTIC.

The program will also include bespoke solo pieces I have composed for Adelaide based singers Hew Wagner, Sidonie Henbest and Bethany Hill. 

Here are the pieces as Mp3s using sibelius virtual instruments. Nothing like it's going to be - with human voices - but it will give you a flavour.

Prayer For Sanctuary - a setting of psalm 23

Gloria

The Morning Star

I have written the music and text for soloist Bethany Hill and choir. She has the most phenomenal range and agility so this piece will showcase her beautiful gift/skill. I can't wait to work with her and a choir together.

Kumbuya

This one's for the ladies - an SSAA piece.

How can you help this music come to life?

If you are the sort of singer I'm looking for and can be in Adelaide for the concert and some rehearsals give me a hoy.

Share this with people who you think might be interested.

Keep up to date on facebook.

 

Prayer for Mother

Tapestry hanging in Church of the Epiphany, Crafers, South Australia

Tapestry hanging in Church of the Epiphany, Crafers, South Australia

For Mother's Day I am sharing Prayer For Mother. This is another song that will feature in my upcoming concert. I wrote this song in two parts, both more or less by accidental magic.

Firstly, I accidentally wrote the text.

It happened while I was writing a choral setting of Psalm 23.

As I sat with that text and the themes and emotions expressed in that beautiful prayer, I began to feel that the theme of tender nurturance is an expression of Mother.

To explore this I rewrote the text with the prayer being to The Mother aspect of God. This helped me understand the original text much more deeply.

I took this feeling back to psalm 23 and proceeded to set it for choir. Basically I wrote this text as part of a completely different creative project, and once it was done, let it sit.

 

Prayer For Mother

At dawn the last of her night stars steer my path.
through the trees I see the way.
I see the way.
When the sun is hot
I rest in her green grass,
I drink from her river.
I am restored.
And I am restored.

She lifts me high in her expectation.
She holds me close when I am hurt.
She talks me through my fears.

I have heard death’s low drum, but
She knows the smallness of death in the vast universe
and is not afraid.

She feeds me, she nurtures my body, she fortifies me.
Like a child I surrender
I rest my head against her.

She will bring sanctuary to my weary, weary soul.
For all of the days
for all of the days
all of the days
of my life.

The inspiration for the second half of this work - finding the music for the words - happened unexpectedly and for me personally with a sudden lightening bolt of emotion. Our little opera troupe (South Australia's touring opera company Co-Opera) was spending a few days in a grand house in the New South Wales highlands. Earlier in the tour, Sidonie Henbest - a stunning soprano and woman - and I had talked about poetry and mothers and spirituality, and I had found and shared this poem with her. 

It was Easter, so the year was turning and the air had that crisp clarity of autumn. One evening at twilight, Sidonie walked out into the grounds and sang. (There is surprisingly little opportunity to practise on tour when you're not actually performing. So staying somewhere with large grounds was a welcome music making treat for many of us and over the weekend we found little corners of the gardens to make joyous noise.)

I can't remember what she sang. I just remember how the rare combination of richness, power and vulnerability in her voice hit me, deep inside. I climbed through a window to sit on the verandah and better hear. My body started shaking. For a while I was too overwhelmed to move. And then I came to my senses enough to scramble inside, find a pen and a paper and start setting the text, as quickly as I could, before she stopped singing and the spell was broken. 

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Can you imagine?
An autumn evening, slowly getting dark.
Sidonie's soprano voice floating over these grounds.

I sat on this verandah,
completely overcome.

 

Sidonie will sing this at the concert/recording on the 13th of August.

Until then, a tiny taste of the piece via the virtual instruments on my wee computer.






 

 

The Morning Star

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Oliver

1. Apolopy

I'm sorry I missed last week - I had the flu and my head was a mess.

2. Another Apology

This week's song is crazy. It's for a soloist and choir. And not a normal soloist. Just so happens that there is a beautiful and brilliant young singer, Bethany Hill, based in Adelaide for whom I have composed this piece. She has one of those extremely high, extremely melismatic, wonderful voices. Like starlight. It takes my breath away.

So I collected and put together the words based on my feeling of her, and the way her voice makes me feel. There is poetry by Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, infused with ideas from The Bible and ancient ideas about the music of the celestial spheres.

She is the only person I know who can sing this song. So although it's a bespoke piece for a professional singer with an extreme voice, I'm sharing this here because it's what I've been working on for some weeks.

It was one of those experiences where I started with a lot of notes and ideas and kept carving back until I finally found what I was listening for. Which is a mildly alarming way to compose - because until the end, you just don't know what you're going to find...

3. An Explanation

During my vocal rest and surgery I became personally aware of the great, deep truth - that all things shall perish. I had to consider - what if I never sing again - what if that has perished? The answer was that the music that has come through me all my life will still come through me. Wild and Precious. But maybe it will travel through different channels - out my head, out my hands. 

I realised I needed to make composing the heart of my music making, and approach singers I know to breathe life into my work.

So I am holding true to this - I am writing new works, polishing up old works, finishing half written works, approaching singers whose voices inspire me - to have a concert and live recording.

4. A Date

This concert will be on the 13th of August. So for the next few months my focus will be on writing for this concert. Writing more sophisticated music for reading choirs. For the coming weeks this blog is going to move away from material for community choirs, and document my preparations for this concert. I will be back to normal material after then!

I will continue to be writing material for teaching sightsinging, so I will share occasionally some simple stuff.

5. Enjoy

I hope you enjoy hearing this. I can't wait to hear it with human voices and human hearts. If you are in Adelaide on the 13th of August you can hear it too. Or there will be a recording of the concert available shortly after.

The Full Banchieri

But before we get to that...remember The Train's Off The Track? Well as a treat, here's Melbourne singer and choir director Stephanie Payne's take on it. How cool is that?

Darlings, in December last year my choir Voices in The Wilderness, performed the Banchieri. It was WONDERFUL. If you've been reading for a while, you may recall the various posts of my translations.

The work has twenty songs and they range in difficulty from very easy to extremely ambitious indeed for a community choir. To perform this work - we gave the five most difficult pieces to dedicated smaller ensembles within our choir who put in an admirable effort to get the pieces up.

I've listed the pieces together at the bottom of this page, with links to their sheet music, in order of difficulty - so your choir can make a selection based on your own needs. I can't tell you enough how well it went, how beautifully the choir did, how much fun it was for audience, singers and guest musicians.

Here's an excerpt from the program - which explains a bit more about the work.

Welcome. Thank you for joining us for this treat.

I am in love with the music of this work. The harmonic language sounds so fresh and new to my ears - just thrilling. What a piece of music.

It's raucous and rowdy and cheeky and beautiful. The text ranges from the most sublime love poetry, to a canon of ridiculous animal noises. The whole work is a romp of joyful silliness mixed with stunning choral writing.

It's also written for (but rarely performed by) community singers. So this is the authentic deal. We will be performing it on the instruments it was composed for! And you can hear it. The earthiness, the lustiness, the robust singing of a joyous community choir bring this work to life.

I hope you like the translation. This will be a premiere of my English text.

A special thank you to Bethany Hill who lent her early music expertise to our preparation work. I would like to express my immense gratitude to all the singers of Voices, who have thrown themselves into the preparations for this work with creativity, determination and joy.  

Adelaide Choir Voices in the Wilderness presents the magic and nonsense of this wonderful renaissance piece by Bolognan Monk Adriano Banchieri with English text written for the occasion by Jodie O'Regan.

The work is a collection of madrigals, woven together with commentary and interjections from the ridiculous character Modern Pleasure.

Musical guests Ray Smith and Kerryn Schofield join us on period instruments and our own vocal quartet Time Sweetened Honey will open the concert with some Elizabethan hits.

Madrigal comedies come from late renaissance Italy and draw on the characters and ideas of commedia dell'arte. They were written to be sung but not fully dramatised. They are playful, theatrical and raucous. There were only about two dozen ever composed - evolution favoured the rise of opera! So this piece holds a special little spot in musical history.

Voices in the Wilderness is an irrepressible and adventurous Adelaide Choir whose previous concerts range from Vivaldi's Gloria to debuting a Children's Cantata of Beatrix Potter's Tailor of Gloucester to performing Appalachian songs at Wirrina's Bluegrass and Roots Festival.

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Here are the songs. I would recommend the work for any choir. You could do the whole work, or get some imported quartets/quintets to handle the trickiest songs, or present a bracket of the easier ones within a concert.

Just have a look! Click on each song to open the sheet music.

Easy

Song 1 - Modern Pleasure Makes An Introduction

Song 3 - The Peasant Girls’ Masquerade

Song 7 - The Lovers’ Dance

Song 17 - The Feasters

Song 20 - Farewell and Welcome

Medium

Song 6 - Masquerade of the Lovers

Song 10 - Aunt Bernadina’s Story

Song 11 - Caprice for Three Voices

Song 18 - Drinking And Thinking - needs a confident bartender

A Decent Challenge

Song 2 - The Old Men Of Chioggia Prepare To Dance

Song 12 - The Animals in Counterpoint

Song 14 - The Swindling Spindle Sellers

Song 16 - The Fountain And The Count

Song 19 - A Rather Foolish Moment To Sell Treasures

Most Difficult

Song 4 - After The Masquerade

Song 5 - Madrigal To A Nightingale

Song 8 - The Sad Madrigal Of The Lovers

Song 9 - The Lovers’ Farewell - THIS IS TWO SOLOS

Song 13 - A Rather Lovely Madrigal

Song 15 - The Spindle Sellers Madrigal

 

----

And lastly some photos from the show.

We had a brilliant narrator in Roger. It may be that there's a wonderful translation of the commentary online that ties the work together. But I couldn't find a public domain one, so I couldn't possibly share a link here.

We didn't stage this. But as you'll see, we had some dramatic elements. Ela spun wool during the spindle seller songs, we had dancers to dance the spindle, the lovers hammed it up wonderfully. We had magnificent renaissance musicians who stood outside the venue and piped the audience in. It was great.

Gloria

Time Sig: mostly 6/8

Parts: SATB with divisi in every part

Key: starts in A minor travels around a lot ends in G major.

Complexity level: high. (I write tonal music, it's not crazy but it's a pretty robust piece that would need good readers.)

This Gloria has been travelling with me for a very long time.

About fifteen years ago, I started writing choral and vocal art music. I first wrote this piece then as part of a six voice Mass and performed it during the Adelaide Fringe.

Recently I've been listening to the music I wrote during that time. I can hear two things - firstly what we might call an immature understanding of the craft. (There is so much craft to composing - what melodies want, what harmonies want, what phrases want, what sections want. How to write so the whole work is a compelling story. I imagine the exploration of this craft is a whole life thing.)

But secondly I hear something else. I hear my own voice as a composer. My own take on what the universe is saying. It's a relief to report that - I like it.

I largely stopped writing when I went to UQ and studied with the Kodaly greats there. Studying choral conducting meant I learnt how when great musicians bring great music to life, they profoundly inhabit the music, they seek the meaning of every note. I learnt how great musicians trust composers to write greatly. At that time, I learnt enough about music to feel pretty sure my compositions wouldn't provide the richness great musicians need. Sobering and humbled I quietly put my pen down!

Since that time, I've focused more on arranging. I've always had choirs on the go and probably like many of us, end up doing a lot of arranging for work. Arranging for community choirs has taught me so much, so very much, about what 'singable' means. Fifteen years of arranging for choirs and living with the results has changed my writing. It's intuitive for me now - a melody sings or it doesn't.

A few years after I first wrote it, I reset this Gloria for a quartet I had of four very bright, very gorgeous young women. Then reset it a few years later for an SATB quartet. I've been dabbling with it since, but I felt that I still hadn't found the song, that it was still coming.

Recently, in the last two years I suppose, my attitude to my own writing has changed. I don't feel as frozen by the greatness of others, or the dependence musicians have on their composers. I feel more like - just get on with it. That time and energy spent worrying could be better spent writing. A kind version of get over yourself.

Thank goodness.

So I'm writing seriously again. Older and wiser. The extraordinary thing is that I had an undiagnosed hormone imbalance for some time and was quite sick with this. It changed the way my brain works - I have become a much slower tempoed thinker. To my surprise this has given me the chance to slow down in my writing enough to think wisely about craft - how to craft my works to best bring out and share my take on what the universe is saying. 

Over the last month I've come back to this Gloria and been working on it quite compulsively.

And then. late last night it was done. 

I am planning a recording and concert soon with some beautiful singers to breathe life into my new phase of writing, featuring this Gloria. This Gloria that has come with me for so many years as we have both discovered who we are.

Train's Off The Track

 
 

Key: Dminor (or whatever)

Time Sig: 4/4

Complexity: super simple. It's a one minute teaching song we use for audience joining in during live performances.

Parts: lead, three harmonies, optional improv bass man if you have one at hand. 

Emlyn and I like to have a few songs that we can throw at any group and whip in to three parts during a concert or at a ffolk festival choir workshop or in a supermarket queue. you know.

I wanted to share one with you. You'll see I've written it very straight to keep it super simple to read, but go ahead and loosen it up!

On this recording the third and fourth verses are lifted from another song, and I'm not totally confident they are public domain, so in the pdf there are different (original and public domain) lyrics. (It's important to me that the songs here are copyright free.) Hmm. Since this recording I've realised it felt better for everyone singing along if we added a repeat - which is in the pdf but not in this recording. I also haven't written out what Emlyn does - saints preserve us, he does something different every time we sing it so it would be impossible. hahaha.

I recommend a shaky egg or similar. This is just good fun. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

 

An Irish Blessing

 
 

Key: D major

Time Sig: 2/4

Parts: SATB

Complexity: simple - designed to be partially sightread

My grandparents were second generation Irish, and although I've never been there, the music I learnt from my mother is a thread of song back to my ancient home. I have been blessed indeed to have the experience Zoltan Kodaly talked about where folk songs have helped me know my heritage.

My Nana and Papa had An Irish Blessing printed on a tea-towel, hanging in their little kitchen and these words bring them back to me, and bring a wee tear to my eye.

This song will become part of the sightreading material I'm creating for the Kodaly scholarship. The tune is made up of d,r.m and s. In the first full verse, everyone sings this in unison. If you are sightreading, and up to this level, you are welcome to try it out and let me know how you get on!

I haven't put in interpretation markings. I feel like they are obvious - sing the oo's softly and flowingly. Sing the verses with a sense of elegant phrasing - singing to the last note of each phrase. Breath without apology, don't rush on that account! This piece presents a good opportunity for choristers to consider their role in the choir. Who has the tune? Who has the accompaniment? What might this mean for how you sing your part?

Happy St Patrick's day!

Gloria ad modum tubae

Parts: SATB

Time: 4/4

Key: A major (you may prefer to move it up to B if you have a high school choir)

Complexity: robust for a community choir

Dufay wrote this for two voices and two trombones. The two voices are in canon, and the two trombones have a similar interaction, although their interplay is a little more interesting. I thought it would convert to SATB easily enough and set some fitting text - which is why I've shared it here. Today I discovered via youtube that many choirs have had the same idea - and converted this to four voices. Of course. Google is always humbling eh?

It's just a joyous piece. And the interplay of the parts will be downright fun to sing. Enjoy!

Tika-Ti The Tyger

 

 

I've been writing sightreading songs with melodies featuring just do,re and mi. This is my first one with so. It's amazing how much easier it is! So much easier you might say. This song also features tika-ti if you're looking for some choral repertoire for that. I've set the piece for adult community choir, you could always pop it up a tone or two for high school choir.

Sweethearts I had a push all weekend to get some scholarship work done. And tomorrow is an exciting day - the ENT surgeon said my voice will be healed and ready to start easing back into full singing.  In the middle of that - tonight I'm tired out. So good night and happy singing. 

I Sing - SSAA

Key : D Major

Time Sig: 4/4

Parts: SSAA

Complexity: medium

I've had several emails pop up this week.  Rose asked if I'd mind arranging the beautiful song, I Sing, by Andy Armstrong for women's choir. No I do not mind. It was a pleasure to revisit this exquisite song. So here it is! Please let me know how you get on with it Rose - and if you send in a recording I'll share it here! 

And although this song is in copyright, Andy kindly gave me permission to arrange and release with a very liberal license for community choirs (see the sheet music for details).

Here's a treat for your ears. Andy singing with his duo buddy Marta - performing this live. See how simple, honest and heart felt it is. Aren't they amazing? I hope they don't mind if I put in a plug for their CDs here. My arrangement is a bit more choral. If you record it, we can find out what Andy thinks. haha.

 

I had another email from Kass, who has written some lyrics to go with the little warm up round. Awesome!

I must sing this little song, My
Voice has been on ho-li-da-ay
When my voice get used to it then
I’ll be on my sing-ing wa-ay
Just a drop and then we soar in
One full octave, no de-la-ay
Tripping notes and tra-la-lah-ing
See the semibreve and sta-a – ay---.

Have a good week sweethearts.x

 

The Turtle Dove

Key: C major
Parts: SATB (there is some divisi in the Sops but you could ignore it if you want!)
Time Sig: mostly 3/4 but I advocate keeping it loose
Complexity: moderately simple. Great for building confidence in harmony singing

This is one of my favourite songs to sing. We learnt it from Kate and Alison - who are quite stunning in the way they sing Appalachian folk songs with all their hearts and voices. They are called Sonsy and I recommend them, if you get the chance to hear them at a folk festival some time.

Alison taught me how Appalachian harmony is created. The tune is set and the harmony parts simply take the next note up in the chord, or the next note down in the chord. And this relationship to the tune stays constant in each part through the song. If you've listened to harmony singing from that part of the world, you may have noticed this.

When I've been in workshops with Bluegrass harmony singers, I've noticed that because each part's role stays the same throughout the song it become easy to feel and get that sense of where you belong. 

So this is not only a joy to sing, but a good way for your choristers to build up feeling themselves singing into chords.

When you sing it, you'll feel how how it wants to be sung without sheet music, and allowed to breathe. 

I couldn't find a recording of Sonsy online - but here's Emlyn and I doing a slightly different arrangement -  we've put it in 4 and just do our own thing harmony wise - but it will allow you to get a feel for the song.

The Unquiet Grave

Parts: SATB

Key: F major (you can lower it to suit your choir as needed)

Time: 4/4

Complexity: simple. Designed to support a choir working on sightsinging

I know this song deep inside because my mother sang it when I was a child. I can't recall ever not knowing it. Like many ballads it has a lot of verses and I've decided not to set them all. A simple song can get tedious for both singers and listeners if it goes on and on eh?
This song is part of my collection of choral repertoire written for choirs learning to sightread. I've tried to most respectfully reset the words to a new tune to make the song as simple as possible. The tune (which everyone sings in verse 1) is do, re and mi, with no dotted notes and no fast rhythm patterns. When I hum it, I would take liberties with the timing on the notes for "love" "rain" "love". You'll feel it. I didn't want to write it in, because it would mess with the simplicity of the sheet music, but if you want to add pauses, I'm all for it.

In these turbulent times, we must all do our part to uphold democracy eh? My contribution is a democratic delegation of the tune. Each part has a turn at the tune. as well as a harmony line to learn.  You'll also notice I've got some folk style appoggiaturas written in, in some parts. I imagine this could be a challenge for the singers who don't have them. If your singers start appoggiaturing in ways other than what's written, I'm all for you deciding if it's a sign of good musical instincts and best left "uncorrected" or if you want them to follow the little black dots to the letter. As you wish!

The three songs I've written as beginner choral sightreading songs are all sombre textual material. I did that on purpose - I feel like these simple, undotted tunes have a dignity and a sadness to them. (Imagine a bagpipe player at a funeral in the misty highlands at dawn).  So to me they need dignified, sad text. But I will find cheerier text as the elements I include in the sightreading songs become more sophisticated.