I really love Sacred Harp singing, and I don't know why.. I'm not a rugged Southerner by any means.
Well, actually.. I know what I love about the music, but I've never found out why it touches me so deeply. I love how everybody sings as loud as they can. I love how everyone just goes for those high notes without caring. I love how people stomp, clap, sway in unison.. I love the rugged, unrefined harmonies and robust tempos.. I love the texts, poetic and often with a doomy Southern tinge..
My thoughts, that often mount the skies,
Go, search the world beneath,
Where nature all in ruin lies,
And owns, her sovereign — Death!
And now for my composition Meditations Around the Cross, I'm setting a Sacred Harp hymn and trying to capture everything I love about Sacred Harp singing.
I'm prepping for a performance of La Monte Young's composition Composition #7 1969. The work is simple, almost controversially simple, in a 4"33 kind of way. The score for the piece consists of a B/F# drone, with the instructions "To be held for a long time". It's interesting working with such few materials in a composition.. and in such a potentially long composition, too! It makes me think that performing a work with such few components ceases to be a performance and becomes almost a ritual, a meditation in practice.. which is an idea that La Monte Young favoured. The question is, how does one listen to Composition #7 1969? That's an idea I'll observe when I perform the piece at Brock University's Nuit Brock performance art festival. Keep a look out for me!
The dreaded orchestral reading
Orchestral readings can be stressful, especially for the composer who's score is being rehearsed. Not only is time preciously limited for the conductor, but orchestra musicians can be snarky and difficult. Most are untuned towards new music and are unreceptive to unfamiliar techniques. And the worst part for composers after a bad reading is the endless amount of guilt after the reading." The musicians hated my music! The balance was so bad, I’m a bad orchestrator! I can’t write for strings! Why didn’t I just write easier music?!" Etc.
Nico Muhly discusses some of his experiences with readings.. and yes, even when working with a top-of-the-line orchestra and a world famous composer, the results are still the same. Should I feel some relief? Well, I'll listen to some recordings of my own readings and see how that goes..
Tyler Versluis is a composer and pianist.