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Ave Regina Caelorum

J. Lee Graham

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Ave Regina Caelorum

Marian Antiphon for Lent 

4 Voices a cappella (SATB)

Mode: F Mixolydian

Composed:  23-27 May, 2017

Style:  18th Century stile antico closely emulating Late-Renaissance, ca. 1600

Duration:  1 minute, 30 seconds


Ave, Regina Caelorum,
Ave, Domina Angelorum:
Salve, radix, salve, porta
Ex qua mundo lux est orta:
Gaude, Virgo gloriosa,
Super omnes speciosa,
Vale, o valde decora,
Et pro nobis Christum exora.
Hail, O Queen of Heaven.
Hail, O Lady of Angels
Hail! thou root, hail! thou gate
From whom unto the world, a light has arisen:
Rejoice, O glorious Virgin,
Lovely beyond all others,
Farewell, most beautiful maiden,
And pray for us to Christ.

Last Sunday, the director of the Schola Cantorum of St. Mary's Cathedral here in Austin, Texas was complaining to me that he was having trouble finding settings of Ave Regina Caelorum that he liked or felt were workable, and he asked me if I had any free time to write a setting for the Schola.  I got inspired and by Tuesday began composing this setting, which I just finished last night.

I used sixth comma meantone temperament in the recording of the rendering to better emulate the kind of tuning a choral group would probably use in this style and mode, and I used woodwind samples because clarity is lost with the wretched choral samples I have available to me.   

Being self-taught in this style as in almost everything else, I'm seriously concerned that I have done this according to the rules of 16th Century polyphony, as I understand them.  I hope this piece is enjoyable, but by all means, if any of you notice anything in it that I may have done wrong, I'd like to know about it.  Thanks!  

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This is excellent!  I have one piece of advise for your next choral piece that may make for a more successful performance.  You have several very big leaps in the lines.  The soprano part for instance, leaps by an octave up to a high G.  Because of the different ways one shapes the mouth and uses the breath to sing a low G and a high G as a soprano, it can be helpful to give them a way to take a tiny pause to make the switch smoothly without sliding to the high note, or cracking.  It's not that the high note is out of range, it's just that you need to change things, and it takes a fraction of a second to make the change.  A piano or guitar player can set a finger for the next note while singing the current note, but a singer doesn't have that option, so to get as clean a switch as possible give them a way to cheat without spoiling the integrity of the line.  

There are two good ways to help them do this.  One, have another voice part singing the same note and the same syllable with them in unison on the note before they make the switch.  That means they can leave that note a little early, and the audience won't hear the space in the line.  So for the low G, high G example, the alto part could also be a low G, and the same syllable at that point.  If you can't easily manage to get another part in unison with them, having another part in octaves with them and on the same syllable is still pretty good.

Two, if the writing has some counterpoint, or at least isn't strictly homorhythmic, you can put those big jumps in places where it is natural for there to be a little breath in the part with the jump anyway.  Make sure the note before the leap is of long enough duration that they don't need to omit the note entirely.  So the note before shouldn't be, say, an eighth note, where they are the moving part that resolves a chord.  That note would be too important for them to omit, and too short for them to shorten gracefully to give themselves a pause to readjust their vocal space for the leap.  I say to do this where there is already some counterpoint because the glory of a leap is in it's leap-i-ness.  If the music stops in all parts for a breath, and then they leap, it loses some of it's excitement.  If only one part pauses to prepare for the jump, it retains it's feeling of momentum.  

Hope that's a help for your next one!  The more skilled a group of singers is vocally, the more gracefully they will be able to navigate something like this.  They will be in better athletic vocal shape to jump cleanly.  But even a very good singer will need a fraction of a second to make the switch, and will appreciate that you have built in a graceful way to cover it for them that doesn't hurt the music.  

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Ooh, thought of one more way to give the performers a little room to leap gracefully.  You can also divide a part at those spots.  Soprano ones make the big leap, and concentrate on sticking the landing, at the expense of the previous note.  Soprano twos make a smaller leap and are in charge of singing the previous note to its full duration.  In the same way that magicians use showy stagecraft to draw the eye away from the mechanic that makes a trick work, and cheerleaders set up to throw someone dramatically in the air behind a line of other people, so you don't notice all the spotters and lifters, you can make a big leap feel cleaner and more dramatic if you find a way to hide the preparation for it in the rest of the musical texture.  


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