Earthsongsis a collection of three pieces meant to be performed together without pause. At the forefront of these pieces are the ideals of protecting the earth and finding joy and peace in nature, ourselves, and others. Pay attention to how the composer ties texts from three separate sources using call-and-response style echoes, shared melodic and harmonic ideas, and E as a home key of sorts even as it is transported through different modes.
I. The World is Full of Poetry
The text is taken from a work by 19th century poet and geologist, James Gates Percival. This blog post has some insights on his life and poetry.
Notice where the Ds and Gs are sharp or natural- Brunner borrows notes from the E minor.
There is a lyrical oboe solo line that that often offers a contrapuntal melody that contrasts with vocal lines.
The waves of echoes of “and sparkle in its brightness” play an important role – plus the Es against D sharps and F sharps give it a bit of a sparkly, shimmering quality.
II. In Safety and Bliss
This piece takes its text from the Sutta Nipata, a religious text containing early Buddhist scripture.
This song is chant-like and has a predominant focus on a single melodic line – the parts only sing in unison or in an overlapping call-and-response.
Like chants in many cultures, this piece has an underlying drone – a single note held for the entirety of a piece below the melody.
This movement is in the E phrygian mode. Notice the F naturals – it is just like a natural minor scale except the second note (F sharp in E minor) is a half-step lower.
III. We Join With the Earth
This text is taken from the Prayer for Healing from the United Nations Environmental Sabbath Program. This movement quotes a lot of musical material from the first movement. The melody beginning at m. 103 and continuing throughout is reminiscent of the primary oboe melody from “The World is Full of Poetry.”
We once again see G and D naturals borrowed from E minor. Notice how that changes the character of the music!
At mm. 136-143, we once again have an echo/call-and-response section. Pay attention where you line up or clash with the other parts.
Notice how starting at m. 144 the oboe plays the melody that was used for “And sparkle in its brightness” in the first movement!
Hymn to the Waters from Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda by Gustav Holst
Gustav Holst, was a composer who worked at the turn of the 20th century and is probably most well known for his orchestral suite, The Planets.
Fun fact: Cantabile has performed the choral part in this famous piece twice: in 2012 with Symphony Silicon Valley and Maestro Paul Polivnic and in 2015 with Stanford Symphony and Maestro Jindong Cai.
In 1911, 7 years prior to his premiere of The Planets, Holst premiered the first three groups of his settings of Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda.
The Rigveda is the oldest of the four canonical texts that form the basis of Hinduism. It contains over one thousand hymn texts that were composed sometime between 1200 and 1500 BC; these were only passed down orally until they were transcribed in the 14th century CE. In the years prior to the pieces’ composition, Holst took an interest in Indian culture and religious literature (sometimes known as Holst’s “Indian period”). He studied rudimentary Sanskrit in order to write English translations that he felt could be more clearly understood through his musical settings.
Hymn to the Waters comes from Holst’s third group of settings which were written for female voices and harp or piano. You can hear the version with harp here.
The 21/8 compound meter gives the piece a jaunty feeling and plays with the duple accompaniment in a rhythmic hemiola throughout.
The cascading harp/piano accompaniment is reminiscent of endlessly flowing water.
Watch for the jarring chromatic changes throughout. In about two minutes, Holst explores D dorian, E flat major, E major, and A flat major!
You Are the New Day by John David, arranged by Philip Lawson
This song was originally performed by VIDA, an a cappella women’s quartet that specialized in interpreting folk songs from vocal traditions all over the world. Although Famine Song is not a traditional folk song, it is inspired by the stories and songs of Sudanese basket weavers during a time of drought-wrought famine in the 1980s. It was initially heard on their album “In Bloom,” released in 2010. Be sure to listen to the original version by VIDA as well as the SATB arrangement that we will be singing!
The piece begins with a bass done over which the melody sings. As the melody is repeated, parts are added in harmony and the sopranos and tenors add a perfect 5th over the bass drone, which is common among drones.
Watch out for those C sharps in the “Rain” sections! They are a surprising addition that changes the color of the music for those sections only.
The duet section starting at m. 34 is open to improvisation for the soloists – notice how they are performed and interpreted differently in both recordings.
Past Life Melodies by Sarah Hopkins
Sarah Hopkins is an Australian composer who started off classically trained as a cellist before becoming influenced by the music of many world cultures. This piece touches upon aspects of a few ritual musics, most notably harmonic overtone singing (originating from indigenous singing in Western Mongolia and Tantric Tibetan Buddhist chants), and the second melody – beginning at Rehearsal D – which was heavily influenced by Australian Aboriginal singing. Hopkins provides some helpful information regarding the performance technique of this piece including how to read the score, performing with emotional and spiritual engagement, finding your “chant voice,” and an introduction to harmonic overtone singing. You should definitely read these ahead of rehearsal!
You will notice that this song also has a heavy drone element – do you see a pattern?
Canadian composer Stephen Hatfield attempts to capture the ritual elements of a Balinese traditional ceremony known as “Ketjak,” or “The Monkey Chant.” This piece is meant to operate without a conductor; according to Hatfield, vocal cues are meant to be given by the “elders of the choir.” Here’s an excerpt from TJAK!’s background notes:
“There are two key ideas that will help with understanding both the original ritual and Tjak! Firstly, in memory of an epic battle when the monkeys poured out of the jungle to come to the aid of the noble Prince Rama, the Monkey Chant imitates hordes of chattering monkeys leaping into action. Secondly, the chant is meant to have a purging, cathartic effect, in part because it is believed that demons can only move in straight lines, and so the cross-accents and syncopations created by the layering of ostinati bewilder the forces of evil, and keep them at bay.”
Please read the performance notes for information on notation, pronunciation, instructions, and technique. When rehearsing this song please save your voices. This piece can be very vocally taxing, so be careful to not go too bananas with this Monkey Chant
Turn the World Around by Harry Belafonte, arranged by Larry Farrow
Turn the World Around with music by Harry Belafonte and lyrics by Robert Freedman is a hit song from Belafonte’s 1977 album by the same name. The Harlem-born Belafonte is well known for popularizing Caribbean music stylings in the American mainstream in the 1950s, earning him the title of “King of Calypso.” In addition to being a singer and songwriter, Harry Belafonte has been a vocal civil rights activist and humanitarian. The beloved song Turn the World Around remains popular both in its original format and in a famous performance on The Muppet Show. You can see and hear the arrangement by Larry Farlow here.
Dear Vocalise, Action Items for your practice before Monday’s rehearsal: Get familiar with the new repertoire by reading the notes below and the program notes in each score (when provided) Listen to performance examples (follow links below) Sing your lines, get familiar with texts New Repertoire: SSA (will be performed with Ensemble at All-Choir Concert) For SATB songs, scroll […]
Dear Vocalise and Bravi, It was simply wonderful to see you all at the first rehearsal and get back to our singing. The room fills up with so much energy and excitement… aren’t we lucky to have Mondays like that?! Just a month after releasing Cantabile’s first professional CD Music Down in My Soul, we begin recording the second one […]
Dear Vocalise, Thank you for a wonderful rehearsal this Monday. We, your instructors, were moved by the resolve and the wholehearted commitment to music that you showed so sincerely last Monday night. Let’s “lift our eyes to the mountains” and keep the focus on the work we have been so passionately doing — bringing beauty, joy and healing to this […]
Dear Vocalise, Thank you for your time and focus during our Halloween rehearsal. It was great to see all of your faces and costumes! Action Items for Monday: All pieces on the program are memorized by now. Continue to deepen your memorization level. Everyone should practice with a goal in mind; with focus and deep concentration. For all songs with […]
Dear Vocalise, Thank you for your time and focus during our Halloween rehearsal. It was great to see all of your faces and costumes! Action Items for Monday: Keep practicing EVERYTHING with a metronome. Every singer should be internalizing and memorizing the key tempi for each piece. Monterey singers: Review the three competition pieces. Practice the Pakkanen choreography alone and […]
Dear Bravi and VTG, Thank you for your time and focus during our Halloween rehearsal. I hope you enjoyed my carefully considered costume. No one guessed I was dressed as a choir director! 🙁 Action Items for Monday: Keep practicing EVERYTHING with a metronome. Every singer should be internalizing and memorizing the key tempi for each piece. Keep practicing the […]
Dear Vocalise, Thank you for your focus, energy, and commitment at the last rehearsal! We have just over a month until our Winter Concert and just three rehearsals until our competition in Monterey. You’ve done a lot of good work, so keep it up! Just a reminder, we WILL be having a rehearsal on Halloween (spookiness TBD). Feel free to […]