happy (musical) new year

Wishing my (few) loyal readers a very happy new year. For me, the year has started well. Last year ended with a snore. I managed to hold out until the Mountain time zone, but couldn’t last until Pacific. My best friend awakened me with a kiss just after midnight (I’m not sure that it was so much to greet the new year as to get me to stop snoring! In any event, both goals were satisfied.). What would my first post of 2006 be without a new piece of music!

I was lamenting to Marianne on Friday that the previous day’s piece was probably my last composition of 2005. She said that if I didn’t write something earlier, I’d probably have a piece done before I went to bed on the evening of the 1st. Two days was plenty of time for another piece, but there were various things to do, including a pleasant Saturday with Marianne staffing The Yarn Boutique. We planned on leaving around 3:00, but customers kept us nicely busy for several hours more. That cut rather severely into my composition time!

This afternoon, however, proved to be quite different. After a morning at church (attendance lower with Sunday falling on the 1st, but with a good level of energy and spirit nonetheless), we returned home for a relaxing afternoon. Swedish pancakes for lunch, using a package I gave Dad in his Christmas stocking (my recipe from scratch is better, IMHO). After playing a few computer games, fighting the urge to nap (no, I don’t know why I fight that urge!), I decided to try my hand at what I hope is the first of a set of six introits–short choral pieces–I’ll create over the next three months.

My planning calendar lists the lectionary texts for each Sunday. The first introit was needed for January 22; the psalm for the day (Psalm 63:5-12) offered interesting possibilities. You’ll find the link to the score at my website. I’ve also produced an electronic realization, also available on my website.

Because this piece is an introit–a piece that starts off a church service–it is not intended to be a full-length anthem. On the one hand, it’s easier to write because it doesn’t have a lot of development of musical ideas. On the other hand, I found myself wanting to develop musical material further and had to hold myself back, since I wanted to keep the focus on a short piece of text. From the point of view of the choir director, I didn’t need to have two pieces that require a lot of rehearsal on the same Sunday (I have a pretty busy rehearsal schedule for the hour before worship begins already).

By writing a three-measure phrase for piano, and then choosing to repeat that phrase, with one exception about 2/3rds of the way through, I limited my harmonic motion and reduced my melodic choices. As choral material is repeated, changes are made to accomodate changes in text. There’s also a response that the lower voices make to the soprano lead that gets longer each time it returns (I wanted to give a sense of freedom and expanse within a limited musical universe).

The exception I just spoke of? I repeated the first measure of my three-measure phrase six times (=two phrases in length), with each repetition off by about a third in pitch from the preceeding measure. By the end, we’re right back where we started, having cycled through almost two octaves. If all that jargon leaves you cold, try this: I needed some contrast, and wanted a climax point. Changing the underlying material and speeding up the rate of harmonic change gave me the freshness and peak that I wanted. (I may not be working in the university now, but the professor just refuses to go quietly!)

Even though the psalm selection had 8 verses, I paraphrased and excerpted from not much more than three verses. I really wanted to do more; maybe I’ll return later in the year and create a fuller anthem version. I like the piece. I hope any listeners and singers (especially my choir) do to.

In any event, it’s music to my ears in very early 2006.

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