My newest choral piece, imagined community, will be performed on Wednesday in Leicester by Humberstone Choral Society. This piece was commissioned by conductor and choral director Motje Wolf. The details of the concert can be found here. The piece has two versions: one with fixed notation, and one with more open notation. The first version has an optional solo part, and the second version must have a solo instrumental part. In the concert, the choir will perform version two, and the solo part will be perfumed by saxophonist Dylan Menzies. I’m really looking forward to hearing the piece in the concert on Wednesday.
Below is something I wrote about the piece for the choir’s newsletter, with a few added links. The theme of the concert is Folk Music, and so my work needed to respond to that theme. I also blogged about beginning to write this piece a while ago, here.
When thinking about making a choral piece related to folk music, there were lots of examples of settings of English folk music, often well known, that I could have looked to. Indeed, quite recently I wrote a long choral piece about the town of Grimsby which included settings of a folk tune ‘Grimsby Lads’ written by living composers John Connelly and Bill Meeks. You can hear a recording of that piece, performed by Grimsby Philharmonic Society here:
But this time I wanted to do something different. I looked to folk music that I find very inspiring: in particular music from the arctic circle. Three groups of people live in within the arctic circle: the Inuit people in North America, the Saami people in Northern Europe and the Tuvan people in Northern Russia. All three groups have a similar kind of folk music that involves throat singing and other vocal techniques that are not common in Western classical music. This music is part of a ‘living’ folk tradition because it is still widely performed in its original contexts; in addition, many performers have become well known as pop musicians as well. Within the Saami community, traditionally performed song and melodies are often assigned to specific people, denoting their identity. This is an attractive to me because the music is both a folk music, belonging to all the Saami people, and an individual music belong to people’s specific identities. As a western musician, it is not possible for me to re-create this music authentically. Instead, I chose to transcribe the aspects of the music that interest me within a choral piece with a solo instrument. The music doesn’t require the singers to throat sing or use any of the unfamiliar techniques from the Saami songs. It does use a more open notational scheme allowing some aspects of the piece to be different each time. I chose the title of the piece, imagined community, as this is a term used to describe the way that groups are held together without physical or legal boundaries. It describes how it is possible to identify with particular groups even without physical proximities. It also articulates the strong link between choral singing and community in England, which remains important no matter what the influence of the music.