Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Practice What You Preach, Part III

When last we left our musician-with-a-fledgling-composition-gig, he was thrilled with having two anthems in such shape that he didn’t hate them, even the next morning. He was also giving a faint edit/update to that “Part II” post, thanks to a stray paragraph that got copy/pasted incorrectly. He was also recognizing that all he had to do was find five songs just like the first two.

(Theme music UP, then fade DOWN. Narrator speaks.)

I’m still trying to decide whether writing two pieces out of a total of seven … and then spending two weeks on the road, away from a computer or piano keyboard … is a BAD idea (you’re on a roll and you stop?!) or a GOOD idea (give the material an opportunity to marinate inside the brain; step back and get some perspective). But it’s what I did. Went on the road with DMA, and to visit various friends, over the course of 15 days – give or take a 36-hour stop home to do laundry and not much else.

So I had what I felt were solid bookend pieces … and needed to fill in the guts of the Large Work. Piece o’ cake.

 

Back to the poetry of Ms. Rossetti and Ms. L’Engle, as has been previously discussed to death. I found a poem by Christina Rossetti that began, “This Advent moon shines cold and clear, these Advent nights are long…” and for the first time, a musical idea leapt to the forefront and demanded my attention. Thus far, I had finished [1] a sort of slow, straight-ahead opening song (don’t honestly know how else to describe it, other than perhaps “your choir will shine with this pensive Advent text treatment”) … and [2] a showy, funky final movement that was trying not to be a disco song. Early on, I’d wanted to have something swing out a little bit, since a few years ago I wrote an Easter anthem in the style of an Ellington big band original (Just Not As Good! … I am still humble) which kinda caught on.

Weird, I thought, to have a song swing out when the only loud part of the Advent story is usually the angels carrying on about peace on earth, goodwill to men (and women). BUT that first line of text transported me musically to the land of Guy Noir, Private Eye. I refuse to write a Christmas Pageant script with a Philip Marlowe-style narrator … but I did hear a muted trumpet wailing in the distance; I sensed Manhattan Transfer-esque choral harmony with lots of stray ninths and 13ths; and I felt a slinky, slightly desperate swinging of eighth notes coming on. At the very least, it could cause people to sit up and scratch their heads.

I will now admit that shortly after that tune got into some next-to-next-to-last-draft form, another poem wandered in front of my eyes that caused me to teeter on the edge of musical composition mimickry. This past spring, I heard a choral piece that knocked my socks off. It was slow; it was written specifically for a large number of voices, in four parts, emoting in a contemporary gospel genre (not the classic spiritual style, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, so much); and it was a monstrous hit with the audience of which I was a member that night. I admit … I’m not for plagiarism; and I’m trying to be original here … but I really wanted to write something that would have a comparable effect.

The poem I was looking at, describing the newborn baby Jesus, had relatively few words in it. Perfect for a slow tempo. Problem: as is often the case with Christina Rossetti’s poetry, it was basically in hymn form. So, no refrain to hit the listener over the head with … to put a big pretty bow on the package … to be the earworm that listeners can’t get out of their heads.

Solution? Simple. Re-visit Latin class.

Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te … and Gloria in Excelsis Deo, for good measure.

(‘Twould have been truly odd to have a Large Work, written for Advent and Christmas, without that line in it. Phew. Rescue!)

There was one more item that would come out of the week following the fortnight of my Mid-Atlantic Summer Tour. A Madeleine L’Engle poem called “The Glory” turned out to be a text that I really liked, a text for which I immediately came up with an appropriate idea for a musical setting, and a text that with a lurch I realized had to be presented prior to the text that comprised my current “opening song”.

Hmm.

I had written that opening song, and especially the beginning of it, to be absolutely the beginning of the Large Work. Two quotations of that aforementioned four-note motif, like a call to prayer from a minaret (use your imagination; go with me on this one, for the moment). Brilliant. And now, the high General Effect score might have been in danger from the actions of its own composer?

Yep, pretty much. The new opening song was lots more contemporary-sounding than the old opening song, and probably laid out that element of the Large Work much more effectively. But I was still a little deflated. Wish I’d seen that coming before. Ah well.

 

So, a productive week following the Summer Tour. Then, a productive week following that – just not productive in the service of the Large Work. A brief, previously-scheduled trip to Cape Cod … and then the few days that remained between my Cape return and my re-immersion into School Teaching (oh yes! –my day job) were going to have to be pretty productive. I had no illusions: once the school year kicked in, accompanied by the beginning of the regular church-gig program year, composition time was going to be sparse…

Will our hero finish two more anthems before the giant stone door slams down and leaves summer vacation on the other side of it? Will the basses finally get something melodic to sing? Find out … in the next exciting installment of … “Humility Takes a Holiday”!

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August 24, 2013 - Posted by | choir, music, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] in this space, during the last few months, I’ve occasionally mentioned my pie-in-the-sky attempt to become a Serious […]

    Pingback by Enthusiasm, Part the Second -or- From the Soles of Your Shoes « Editorial License | December 23, 2013 | Reply


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