Music, when soft voices die

It was rather by chance I stumbled upon some choral music in the Clore Ballroom at the Southbank Centre today, and I am rather pleased I did. I am desperate to try and write some choral music. The voice fascinates me, and the combination of numerous voices is an incredible sound. There was a fascinating work for choir and dancers which was the combination of the two most powerful mediums for me – the voice and the body. Such simplicity was inspiring and the extended tonal pallette of the choral writing suited the repetitive and fluid movements of the dancers. This piece was followed by English choral music sung by a smaller chamber choir; clear diction and a good blend made the performance pleasing to listen to. Both of the performances were enough to get me determined to find a suitable text.

Googling seems to be the ideal way to discover texts and I keep returning to texts that focus on ‘music’. Discovering Shelley’s poem ‘Music, when soft voices die’ seemed to be the most perfect summation of the kind of music I wa

nted to write. It also mentions the word ‘memory’ and this remains another powerful concept for me. The text is short, with lines that hopefully will not lose their meaning once set to music – as perhaps Ozymandias would, with its rather long lines.

My concerns now are how to set the text. I seem to approach choral/vocal writing differently but I still try and orchestrate the voices – writing not melodic lines but short phrases that attempt to capture the emotional intent of a line through an appropriate harmonic gesture. Harmony drives my choral writing, perhaps like Whitacre et al. I feel rather exposed in such writing as I find shaping and pacing harmonic gestures is a challenge. One hopes for rather congruent harmonic materials and nothing to stick out as being ‘foreign’; I adopt a musica ficta approach of editing independent lines phrase by phrase, to eradicate any notes that disrupt the harmonic intent. Does any of what I have written actually make sense? I think I need to go back to my theory books…

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