by Guest Contributor –
Dr. Mark A. Boyle
#47: Friday, April 12, 2019
“Flying” by Rachel DeVore Fogarty
Text based on the words of Amelia Earhart
SSAA, Oboe, Violin, and Cello
I have done my best to commission at least one new choral work during my collegiate career. During my first year at Millersville University, I was taken with the dedication and musicality of the soprano/alto choir, which I had renamed Cantilena. The previous summer, I had met Rachel DeVore Fogarty at the Lehigh University/ACDA Composers Forum. Her music impressed me and when looking for a possible person to commission, I immediately thought of her.
When I contacted Rachel, we talked about what the commission might look like, and I let her know I wanted a text by a woman. The end result – after some back and forth with the custodians of Amelia Earhart name (the name is actually trademarked), Rachel delivered Flying, a choral work for SSAA choir, oboe, violin, and cello.
It has enjoyed an active performance history since 2011, including an offering at the 2013 National ACDA Conference in Dallas by the National Soprano/Alto High School Honor Choir. It’s a stunning work for soprano/alto voices that explores different choral textures, plays with the strengths of the accompanying instruments, and uses various compositional techniques.
The text, a beautiful and very personal statement about the joys of flight, comes to us from one of the most important figures of the 20th century, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Mary Earhart. As it opens, it paints a picture for the reader, and in turn the musicians and their audience:
After midnight the moon set and I was alone with the stars.
Rachel sets the opening with voices alone, singing in a unison rhythm, followed then single entrances from individual parts, conveying that sense of aloneness. She makes good use of dynamic contrast on long notes, letting them rise and fall in volume and possesses a refined ability for text setting.
There is plenty of space in this work, which mirrors the world pilots inhabit – a seemingly endless sky. The violin and cello tend to be active, almost as if they are the engine, while the oboe soars above in longer notes. Regular rising and falling of the line mimic a plane exploring that sky created with rests and caesuras.
As the work progresses, Rachel provides ample opportunity to focus on specific choral ideas – imitative writing, paired voicing, homorhythmic textures, close harmonies, and long, unfolding phrase work. The instrumental parts, which do require solid players, provide harmonic support while playing an active part in creating mood and atmosphere. The ranges are approachable by any mature soprano/alto choir. The soprano 1 part doesn’t go above an A-flat and the alto two part briefly touches a low G.
The structure allows for the high point to happen just about at the golden mean, on the text “I’ve always believed that the lure of flying was the lure of beauty.” It’s a moving moment, and a rewarding one for the choir. As the piece winds down, the flight isn’t over – it just seems to go off beyond the horizon as the opening text and texture (sans instruments) returns – ending on the same chord, accept this time, at a forte dynamic, allowing the final chord to hang in the air after the release.
While there are interesting moments of imitative part writing, the lion’s share is homorhythmic, making the learning process a bit faster.
When Cantilena started work on the piece, they were elated. First, a composition and a text created by two people who were representative for many folks in the room allowed them to see themselves in this work of art. That was priceless.
They were also excited to be bringing the work to life for the first time, freeing those little symbols from their paper prison. If you haven’t commissioned a work for your choir, I highly recommend it. It changed the vector of the rehearsal process. They were willing to work longer and harder as they viewed this piece as theirs.
As with any choral work that sets prose, where we lose the structured nature of a poem with predictable form and a rhyme scheme that helps with understandability, getting the text just right was a challenge. Allowing the triplet rhythms to flow naturally and organically, sometimes against duple partners in other voices, took time, but it was a great pedagogical opportunity. There is a key change, but the instruments really handle the shift. The limited chromaticism is very approachable because of Rachel’s clean voice leading.
Flying works on so many levels and can be used to anchor a themed concert on flight, firsts, works by women for soprano/alto voices, or perhaps a concert considering American ingenuity and pioneering spirit. Rachel has created a work that lives up to its name…it flies. Take a listen and consider programming it. You and your musicians won’t be disappointed.
|Composer:||Rachel DeVore Fogarty |
|Date of Composition:||Spring, 2011|
|Text Source:||Writings of Amelia Earhart|
|Date of Text:||Unknown|
|Voicing Details:||SSAA – no divisi|
|Ranges:||S1: E-flat 4 – A-flat 5 |
S2: E-flat – E-flat 5
A1: D-flat 4 – C5
A2: G3 – A-flat 4
|Accompaniment:||Oboe, Violin, and Cello|
|Commissioning Ensemble:||Cantelina, the S/A Choir of Millersville University – Mark A. Boyle, Director|
|Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing: http://www.kandinskymusic.com/|
Dr. Mark A. Boyle is Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral and Vocal Activities at Seton Hill University. He is also the conductor of the Pittsburgh Compline Choir.
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