This month, I am featuring two blog posts that I wrote back in 2006-2007, long before I began www.composersinklings.com. My second blog post dates from December 4, 2007; Jonathan Miller, the artistic director of Chicago a cappella, asked if I would write an entry for his column on the (now defunct) ChicagoClassicalMusic.org website. I had recently written two works for Chicago a cappella, and he wanted me to blog about the composing experience for the pieces. When re-reading the blog post below, I find it ironic that I had pictured the two commissioned pieces to be a set; in the years since their creation, they have not yet been sung together on the same concert, though they are individually enjoying their share of performances. Sometimes, the life of a work doesn’t quite turn out to be what a composer expects!
|Cedille Records' CD containing|
Chicago a cappella singing
Lo Yisa Goy
Roots Run Deep. I have only set the texts of Edna St. Vincent Millay for choir up until now, so these two works were a real departure for me (and frankly one that has been long overdue). But even deeper than my obsession with Millay’s sonnets are the roots laid down in my childhood. Raised in a Jewish household, I grew up singing in the synagogue as well as in school choirs. Both singing and Judaism have run in my veins for a long time, and even though I no longer practice Judaism nor sing anywhere except the shower, these are the pillars that have shaped my life.
How to Spin an Old, Familiar Song (or Two). I had three priorities for writing these two works: 1. Choose songs that had been part of my Jewish past; 2. The two songs could work as a set for future performances (past their respective premieres); and 3. The works needed to show off the tremendous capabilities of Chicago a cappella’s singers. Jonathan and I batted around some text possibilities, and I chose the celebratory Hava Nagila (which gets danced to at weddings and bat/bar mitzvahs), as well as the more somber Lo Yisa Goy (which is a prayer for peace).
Since both of these are traditional Jewish folksongs, melodies already exist for each. I decided that I’d employ portions of the traditional melodies and surround these with new material. I won’t go into too many details here, but suffice it to say that I was determined to put my own spin on both of these two works. I left the Hava Nagila more or less intact, but added new material at the beginning and middle of the piece. With Lo Yisa Goy, I set the text in both Hebrew and English; just about all of the Hebrew was set using three traditional melodies, while I wrote original music for all of the English. Ultimately, both works provide the audience member with a certain level of familiarity packaged within a new framework.
|Chicago a cappella Records'|
recording of Hava Nagila
Surprise, Surprise! Premiere performances are usually emotional roller-coaster rides for me, and I’m betting for the performers as well. At this point, there’s NOTHING a composer can do to help her or his piece – it is all in the hands (or in this case, voices) of the performers. Sometimes, this can be a real nail-biting experience. Thankfully, Chicago a cappella knows their stuff, and I didn’t even need to think about being nervous on their behalf. It also helped that right before they sang the Hava Nagila on their first Days of Awe and Rejoicing concert, Hoss spotted me in the audience and winked, which I took to mean that they’re ready to have fun with it, and they proved so moments later. Nonetheless, you never know how the audience will respond to a new piece. At the beginning of the Hava Nagila, the men sing with a very nasal quality. I thought of this as an interesting tone color following in the footsteps of composers like Gyorgy Ligeti and Luciano Berio. The audience, however, heard this opening as humorous, and their laughter took me completely by surprise. I can see the piece from the audience’s point of view, and it is just as viable as my interpretation.
|With Chicago a cappella in December 2014 after a|
performance of Lo Yisa Goy.