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Hi all, 

Any comments would be greatly appreciated, particularly on the piano part as I'm not a pianist.  I wanted to write something that would give the pianist a chance to shine, but also am aware that pay for professional accompanists is low for all that they do, and that it just isn't possible to ask them to spend hours practicing a single three-minute piece for a single concert if they are going to make a living.  If thinning down some of the fast chords would be a good idea for the sake of practicality, pianists, let me know.  I don't want to go any slower than this tempo; the choir would risk running out of air.  There is a lot of beautiful, slow music for choirs, so fun, fast pieces are always in demand to balance out a concert program.  

The text describes the mating dance of a cloud of solitary wasps, observed by American husband and wife entomology team Phil and Nellie Rau near St. Louis in the early 1900s.  

"The whole was not a helter-skelter commotion, but a merry whirl to the music of a faint, eerie hum of many wings, with every few moments a rather musical crescendo, which sounded like “zip!”, when a whirling pair would suddenly dash off at triple speed on the wing, in the final fling of joyful abandon..."  - from"Wasp Studies Afield," published 1918.  

 

Furtak-Sun Dancing.pdf

Edited by pateceramics
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I see no performance problems with the piano part. An excellent piece of accompaniment. A nice piece altogether.

You're accomplishment with vocal writing is fairly obvious (from which I can pick up a couple of tips - example, doubling the voices in bars 33-35. and your note about alternative pitches in bar 72 'just in case'). The sudden but subtle change of harmony around bar 72 was a nice surprise. 

Nothing else to say. It's an accomplished work. Performed live, should be beautiful. 

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8 hours ago, Quinn said:

You're accomplishment with vocal writing is fairly obvious (from which I can pick up a couple of tips - example, doubling the voices in bars 33-35. and your note about alternative pitches in bar 72 'just in case'). The sudden but subtle change of harmony around bar 72 was a nice surprise. 

Nothing else to say. It's an accomplished work. Performed live, should be beautiful. 

 

Thanks for taking the time to listen, Quinn.  Yes, the tenors are usually the smallest section in any choir, so you have to be especially careful about writing to the top of the range for them.  It's not uncommon for some bass ones to be asked to sing tenor just to help the balance in a group, so when you are writing high, but attainable notes for tenors, they may not comfortable, or even attainable for everyone in the section.  Conveniently, altos are often the largest section in a choir and have a bit range overlap with tenors, so having some second altos take over a note or augment the first tenors on a note is pretty common for groups who aren't lucky enough to have balanced sections.  Writing it officially into the score gives permission to directors to do what they need to to get a good sound without wondering what you would think about it.  For this piece, I had an alternate note for the tenors that would change the chord voicing, but which worked well with their line and which I liked just as well, so it made sense to write it in, since directors are more likely to just ask any tenors who can't hit the top notes to jump down to the bass line rather than writing in a new part for them.  That would have made a rather leapy line for them, so I like my idea better. 

Thank you again for your thoughts!

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3 hours ago, bkho said:

As always, a wonderful piece.  The piano part shouldn't be much trouble for a good pianist.

 

Thanks, bkho!  I'm glad to know the piano looks manageable.  I can play either hand, slowly, but can't combine them anywhere near up to tempo, so I always like to get a get some outside advice.  Much obliged!

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I really like how you've set this text. The way you've used melismas and repeated fragments makes everything flow really naturally and intuitively. This is not easy when working with such a prosaic text. On the whole, I think it's a really charming, effective composition, but the work with melody, phrase structure, and text setting are especially nice.

I agree with the others that the piano part shouldn't be a problem, but you could renotate some of the rhythms to make it even easier to sightread. The recurring rhythm you have in mm. 1, 3, 5, etc. should be rewritten with ties to show every beat. (Basically, it's good practice to show every beat that has 16th notes in it--see the "rhythm" section under https://blogs.iu.edu/jsomcomposition/music-notation-style-guide/ for a better explanation than I can give. This page also explains why it's good to show the 3rd beat in mm. 2, 4, 6, etc.)

The individual voice lines are all really nice, but there are some harmonies that could be revoiced for better balance, easier tuning, and a clearer sound. Like in m. 65, the lack of a root in the voice parts combined with the overtones from the doubled 3rd might create the impression that the choir is singing a different chord from the piano. Not a bad thing by itself, but since singers tune by ear, it's likely to create intonation problems and a muddy sound in less advanced choirs. (And even when you're not missing the root, doubling the 3rd of a major triad can destabilize a choir's intonation, since its overtones clash with the root and the 5th.)

By a somewhat similar token, in m. 45, I really like the move to B minor 7... but it's undermined by the lack of a root in the voice parts (and again, the same sense that the choir is singing a different chord from the piano).

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7 hours ago, NRKulus said:

I really like how you've set this text. The way you've used melismas and repeated fragments makes everything flow really naturally and intuitively. This is not easy when working with such a prosaic text. On the whole, I think it's a really charming, effective composition, but the work with melody, phrase structure, and text setting are especially nice.

I agree with the others that the piano part shouldn't be a problem, but you could renotate some of the rhythms to make it even easier to sightread. The recurring rhythm you have in mm. 1, 3, 5, etc. should be rewritten with ties to show every beat. (Basically, it's good practice to show every beat that has 16th notes in it--see the "rhythm" section under https://blogs.iu.edu/jsomcomposition/music-notation-style-guide/ for a better explanation than I can give. This page also explains why it's good to show the 3rd beat in mm. 2, 4, 6, etc.)

The individual voice lines are all really nice, but there are some harmonies that could be revoiced for better balance, easier tuning, and a clearer sound. Like in m. 65, the lack of a root in the voice parts combined with the overtones from the doubled 3rd might create the impression that the choir is singing a different chord from the piano. Not a bad thing by itself, but since singers tune by ear, it's likely to create intonation problems and a muddy sound in less advanced choirs. (And even when you're not missing the root, doubling the 3rd of a major triad can destabilize a choir's intonation, since its overtones clash with the root and the 5th.)

By a somewhat similar token, in m. 45, I really like the move to B minor 7... but it's undermined by the lack of a root in the voice parts (and again, the same sense that the choir is singing a different chord from the piano).

 

Thanks for taking the time to give this such a thorough look, NRKulus!  

I use Elaine Gould's style guide for notation.  (She is/was the senior new music editor for Faber).  My measure 2 rhythm meets her criteria for exceptions to the tie rule:  it's simple enough to understand at a glance, it's repeated throughout the piece, so once you've understood it, you don't have to think about it again, and the stresses should be applied contrary to the meter for it to be played as I intend.  If I wrote it with ties, she would suggest adding accents, and then you have something that is really getting complex to digest while sight-reading in a hurry.  Measure 1 meets the simple rule and the repeated rule, and she doesn't make a strong case for ties other than for the middle of the bar in 4/4 to start with.  (She does for triple meters).  Since every publishing company has their own internal editing rules, I decided to pick one and be consistent, and helpfully, she's made the Faber rules available to the general public in an absolute doorstop of book.  (The section on dividing up beats, rests, and beaming according to meter is 40 pages long).  😄

You make an excellent case for the ambiguity of my choral chords in measure 45 and 65.  My usual test is to mute a voice in my composition software, and be sure I can sing the missing part against the other parts and the accompaniment.  That doesn't speak to issues of balance, but I can sing it all without fishing around for the correct note and I still like it when I listen to the choir parts and play along with the left hand of the accompaniment.  I did try changing the accompaniment in those places and the choir parts, and I'm afraid I didn't like it.  I guess I'm attracted to the ambiguity of the way it is currently laid out?  I agree, it's definitely not common, but I'm singing something for my church job this month that does something similar and we didn't have any problems with it in rehearsal.  That said, if anyone ever performs this piece, I'm 100% open to editing those spots if I don't like it when I hear it live.  The benefits of self-publishing.  You can keep updating your score.  

Thank you very much for taking the time to give me such detailed feedback.  I'm making little notes on those measures on my hard copy in case I come up with a solution I like better.  Sometimes I have to put it away in a drawer and come back with fresh ears.  

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On 3/7/2022 at 5:34 PM, pateceramics said:

Thanks for taking the time to give this such a thorough look, NRKulus!  

I use Elaine Gould's style guide for notation.  (She is/was the senior new music editor for Faber).  My measure 2 rhythm meets her criteria for exceptions to the tie rule:  it's simple enough to understand at a glance, it's repeated throughout the piece, so once you've understood it, you don't have to think about it again, and the stresses should be applied contrary to the meter for it to be played as I intend.  If I wrote it with ties, she would suggest adding accents, and then you have something that is really getting complex to digest while sight-reading in a hurry.  Measure 1 meets the simple rule and the repeated rule, and she doesn't make a strong case for ties other than for the middle of the bar in 4/4 to start with.  (She does for triple meters).  Since every publishing company has their own internal editing rules, I decided to pick one and be consistent, and helpfully, she's made the Faber rules available to the general public in an absolute doorstop of book.  (The section on dividing up beats, rests, and beaming according to meter is 40 pages long).  😄

You make an excellent case for the ambiguity of my choral chords in measure 45 and 65.  My usual test is to mute a voice in my composition software, and be sure I can sing the missing part against the other parts and the accompaniment.  That doesn't speak to issues of balance, but I can sing it all without fishing around for the correct note and I still like it when I listen to the choir parts and play along with the left hand of the accompaniment.  I did try changing the accompaniment in those places and the choir parts, and I'm afraid I didn't like it.  I guess I'm attracted to the ambiguity of the way it is currently laid out?  I agree, it's definitely not common, but I'm singing something for my church job this month that does something similar and we didn't have any problems with it in rehearsal.  That said, if anyone ever performs this piece, I'm 100% open to editing those spots if I don't like it when I hear it live.  The benefits of self-publishing.  You can keep updating your score.  

Thank you very much for taking the time to give me such detailed feedback.  I'm making little notes on those measures on my hard copy in case I come up with a solution I like better.  Sometimes I have to put it away in a drawer and come back with fresh ears.  

 

Wow! If Gould says it's ok, I stand corrected. It's true that when I first looked at the score (having not had the recording yet), the rhythm in the first measure gave me a little confusion at first, but in the 2nd measure I immediately knew what you meant... which I suppose is what really matters.

And I think it really shows that you sing each line while listening to the others... they all sit very well and are very singable. It's a good practice that I wish more choral composers would follow. (I do that too for my compositions, trying to sing one part in the correct octave while playing the others at the piano... although when I sing the soprano and alto parts, it sounds like Florence Foster Jenkins at best and an angry coyote at worst!)

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