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Children of a Dream (SSAA + piano)


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Here's a setting I recently completed of an almost-trite little poem by Bliss Carman (1861-1929). The music is considerably more complex than the words are, but this doesn't bother me--my intent was for the music to reflect the variety and contrasts between the images in the poem, and to underscore its message of strength in diversity. Do you think I succeeded?

Recently, I've found I gravitate towards simpler texts for choral music. They seem to allow for a lot more flexibility and interpretation, and music can often add a much-needed extra dimension to them. How do you choose texts when writing vocal music?

Also, how do you feel about the balance between choir and piano in the recording? While sample libraries (even word-building ones like Virharmonic) are nowhere near as good as a live performance, they DO allow me to tweak little details to my heart's content.

Thanks for listening!

SCORE AND AUDIO

 

 

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Yes, you succeeded very well! It's a beautiful piece. The cadence at bar 18 killed me. And there was much more of this sort of surprising stuff throughout.  Did you succeed in capturing the mood of the poem? Absolutely. The meaning? That's dubious, really, because your interpretation of the meaning as 'strength in diversity' is not what I thought at all. Strength In Diversity is a modern political slogan, and as all political slogans go it is to some degree deceptive - by design. I regarded the poem on a higher, more pure level, almost celestial in its purity.

In any case, it won't matter what meaning you or I attribute to the poem. The listener will appreciate that the beautiful music caught the mood very well. That's about all we can hope for.

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Thanks for your feedback, Ken. I'm glad you think it captures the mood--I think that's all that really matters. I probably could have used words other than "strength through diversity," which DOES sound like a political slogan, now that you mention it. I wanted the variety of textures and harmonies to reflect the poem's diverse images and contrasting ideas--but still have an underlying unity in the music to reflect the idea that "all are children of a dream." So that's where I was coming from.

But honestly, I probably only think about this stuff because people ask me to write program notes or talk about my music. I think feedback like yours--that it captures the mood and captivates the listener--is the best thing I can hope for, and gets at the heart of what I'm trying to do when writing music!

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It's really fine music. And I was thinking the same thing about program notes. It always seems a little phony when  a composer steps out of his element to give meaning to something that already has meaning. Whatever you do don't write "diversity is our strength." Better yet, have someone else write it and sign it, someone with credibility in your circle. As long as it's complimentary it doesn't matter what he or she says, because it's their opinion, not yours. :thumbsup:

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Thanks for your kind words, KJ and Gustav--and for listening.

Gustav, I can't really recommend any specific books or online resources--for me, just studying a lot of scores was the most useful thing. I personally think a lot about phrase structure, melodic shape, and text setting when writing choral music, and I think looking at/singing (badly) through the scores to classical songs (solo voice + piano) helped me learn more about these things than looking at choral music. Samuel Barber is probably my favourite, but of course you also can't go wrong with the old German lieder by Mahler, Hugo Wolf, Schubert, etc.

Another thing that's fun* to do sometimes is look at publishers' perusal scores of contemporary choral pieces and read through them (again, badly) at the piano--this helps give a sense of how modern composers build interesting harmonies and (sometimes) subvert traditional voice-leading "rules" while still creating individual lines that are singable and intuitive. A lot of the smaller choral publishers (e.g. Santa Barbara and Pavane) allow you to download full perusal scores from their websites as long as it's exclusively for personal use, and I've found them pretty helpful to this end.

*O.k., maybe I have a skewed idea of "fun"

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  • 2 months later...

The music is absolutely beautiful. I agree with your comment about the poem..  While this genre is completely out of my realm.. I can appreciate and comment on how well the music works.. Yes, it touches on a lot of things. .. What you have done musically is excellent..  I almost prefer the Virharmonic choir, cause I can't tell what they are singing..  

I can't quite envision hearing about locusts, frogs, and ponds to such beautiful music.. it requires text of a far ethereal theme..  I like the vague sound of the present vocals, because they let me the listener, interpret what I hear..  To me, it is more like Angels singing in a language I don't understand.  I can understand the emotion a human voice can sing without using words. .  The beauty of Virharmonic (or a real human choir sing syllables and some vowels doesn't lock me into a certain specificl dialog.. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was listening to your composition and I really liked it. The textures the voices produce are really beautiful and rich. I can feel how they makes me rise and fall in a good way. They also made my mind still and serene. There are tons of tensions here, however there is also a constant quality of peace floating around despite those tensions. The balance betwen the piano and the choir is very good, at least to me. I have a question, how is your composition process or workflow when crafting a piece like this? Do you play it in the MIDI Keyboard and tey turn it to sheet music? Do you create it directly in the sheet music without playing? I am very interested in knowing. Congratulaitons and thanks for sharing! ;)

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Thanks for your comments, Mark and Juan! Mark, now that I've had a few months away from this piece and am hearing it with fresh ears, I think I have a better understanding of why I intuitively set this poem the way that I did. To me, this music felt like a good match for the richness and variety of the images in the poem--complex and full of contrasts, but with an underlying logic that (hopefully) brings out their beauty. These are some of the characteristics I associate with the sights and sounds of nature (to us humans, hearing crickets or birds might be a lot like hearing "angels singing in a language we don't understand," to use your words)--but I wanted to translate this sensation into the language of tonal music and make it accessible to classical singers and audiences. That's why it works for me, at least, but mostly, I'm just glad you enjoyed the music!

Juan, to answer your questions, when I'm writing choral music, I always start with the words--usually a line or phrase in the poem will suggest a certain melody or motive to me. After that, I usually write down the melody with chord symbols on paper (sometimes using the piano, sometimes just by ear/singing quietly to myself if nobody's around). Sometimes I sketch out the whole piece like this, other times just the first big section--but once I'm satisfied with that, I'll go to the piano and Sibelius and work out the accompaniment, counterpoint, etc.

I make the recording after I've finished and revised the entire score. It's so time-consuming to make Virharmonic (or EastWest, or any other word-building choir software that I know of) sound expressive and realistic that you basically have to know what you want the music to sound like before you start recording--it's not worth spending half an hour getting them to "sing" a phrase just right and then decide that you want to completely rewrite the music.

Hopefully the new Hollywood Choir sounds will be better, but I'm not optimistic.

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