Week 10: Friday, May 25, 2018
“The Muse, The Stove, and The Willow Plate” by Zae Munn
Text by Ann Kilkelly
SSA, a cappella
Titled “The Muse, The Stove, and The Willow Plate” – this is a three movement work by composer Zae Munn, with texts by Ann Kilkelly. Munn is professor of music at Saint Mary’s College at Notre Dame, where she teaches music theory, composition, digital media in music, and orchestration/arranging. Kilkelly is professor emerita of performance studies at Virginia Tech – covering topics such as writing, tap dance, script analysis, gender & women’s studies, and collaborative theatrical performance. The two frequently work together on compositions, including other women’s chorus pieces and performance art projects.
Each of the three movements of this work present a woman of strong character or action. The three movements are purchased together, but can be performed separately (~2 minutes each) or together. There are no low extremes of range for any of the movements.
I. The Muse
The lyrics, as part of a longer poem “Getting Tough with the Muse,” were first published in the Southern Womanhood issue of Helicon Nine, in 1988. In it, a woman, an author, a creator, is bemoaning the eccentric temperament of her muse. As if to say: His muse is great, her muse is great. Mine? No. I got the odd one. We’re not getting along. The poem then includes some specifics as to just how out of sorts her muse actually is. The musical setting is primarily in 4/4, with some moments of 3/4. The form is ABA’B – alternating between the slower, lyrical A section with an emphasis on tight harmonies between voice parts, and the shortest, faster B section with echoes and motivic imitation. It’s a glorious fight, an internal struggle of temperament and mood, that nearly every artist and performer can viscerally understand.
II. The Stove
The second movement uses text from “Revolution,” a short story appearing in the American Voice, 1989. It’s nominally about a stove, but, really, it’s about the woman who is tired of being relegated to “women’s work.” She goes on strike, and serves cold cuts to the husband/father for lunch, instead of a warm meal cooked on the stove. In protest to the whole concept of cooking and women’s work, she takes a sledge hammer and destroys the stove, smashing it into little pieces. In mixed meter throughout, there is marked emphasis on the near-continuous eighth notes. This musically creates the pounding of the sledge hammer. All pitches are within the scheme of C Major, with no accidentals or chromatic, though linear motion of the vocal lines is stressed over vertical chord progressions. Repetition of some harmonic and melodic patterns, as well as some doubling of vocal parts at unison or the octave, makes the learning process a little easier than it might seem to be at first glance. The challenge to this movement is the mixed meter, and the continuous counting needed by all voices, in order to get each entrance/pattern in the right spot. As you might imagine, this movement can be quite cathartic and enjoyable – my college students loved it!
III. The Willow Plate
The text for the final movement in the set is excerpted from “The Collectors,” a poem in which a woman uses the images in a willow plate to sing a love song. The musical setting is in F major, though linear motion of the voice lines is dominant over vertical chord progressions. Meter signatures shift between 3/8, 6/8, 3/4, and 4/4. The underlying eighth note stays constant, but the pulse changes due to simple vs compound division of the beat. Altos carry the largest share of the melodic material, though S1 and S2 also have opportunities. S1 rises up to a Bb5, but a stepwise approach with crescendo lessens the potential difficulty. The opening motive (three eighth notes moving up stepwise to a quarter note) reappears frequently.
|Title:||“The Muse, The Stove, and The Willow Plate”|
|Date of Composition:||1988-89|
|Subject(s):||Women, Family, Identity, Strength, Love|
|Duration:||~6:00, all three movements together (can be performed separately)|
|Commissioning Ensemble:||Written for the Wellesley College Chamber Choir|
|Series:||Saint Mary’s College Choral Series, Nancy Menk, editor|
|Further descriptions and details, including notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing:|
Until next week!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.
Some source material for this week’s blog post was taken from my doctoral dissertation, “By Women, For Women: Choral Works for Women’s Voices Composed and Texted by Women” (https://tinyurl.com/ydeyuyk8), as well as from program notes on the score (which are also available on the composer’s and publisher’s websites).