#55: Friday, October 4, 2019
“KidSong” by Stephen Caldwell
You may possibly look at the title for this piece, and assume it’s an elementary or children’s choir song – too childish for your adult women’s chorus, or your high school/college treble choir. Incorrect! My college students are absolutely in love with the piece, and cannot wait to rehearse it each and every time. The energy and drive of the mixed meter, along with the nostalgia of the children’s rhymes, make this an exciting, engaging piece for any women’s/treble choir, no matter their age.
Originally premiered by University of Arkansas Women’s Chorus, “KidSong” is a joyous cacophony of familiar nursery rhymes. In the composer’s comments, inside front cover of the piece, he mentions that “the inspiration came after watching my young son play simultaneously with multiple toys, all of which made sounds and played music, creating a little electronic symphony of kid’s songs.” I can picture that exact scenario – in fact I can imagine exactly which of my own son’s toys would be part of the musical celebration.
The first thing you’ll notice, when you open the octavo, is the tempo marking: “As Fast As Possible.” (Ha!) And next, you’ll notice the meter signatures, all 964 of them. (I exaggerate, but not by much.) The song is a 2 minute and 45 second tour through 7/8, 3/4, 9/8, 4/4, 2/4, 12/8, and 10/8. (And just to be pesky , 7/8 is both 2+2+3 and 3+2+2. There’s even a 9/8 in 3+2+2+2.) If you want a great selection with which to teach asymmetrical and mixed meter, look no further.
Rhythm & meter (and tempo) are definitely a primary focus for this song. At the end of the piece, there are even a few claps, and stomp-claps. So not only is it fast and meter driven, it’s also physical.
The medley includes six songs: BINGO, London Bridge, Twinkle Twinkle, Wheels on the Bus, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Ring Around the Rosy. The opening rendition of Bingo, while metrically unique, is straightforward unison or homophony. It may be crazy asymmetrical mixed meter, but everyone sings the same words at the same time. Not for long though!
Unlike a typical arrangement or medley, with nice neat tonal and stylistic transitions from song to song, Caldwell moves things around a bit. After Bingo, London Bridge comes next, still in nice clean homophony. Once an entire phrase of London Bridge is finished, the material shifts to Twinkle Twinkle in S1/S2. But the altos refuse to give up London Bridge! The two songs exist simultaneously for a moment – with the sections facing off like two unruly toys vying for attention.
Next comes Are You Sleeping. All sections are singing the same song, but this time as a round in 7/8 & 12/8. Once again though, the altos can’t give up London Bridge. Eight measures into an already busy round-version of asymmetrical Are You Sleeping, altos switch back to London Bridge and the two songs are superimposed on one another. Then S1/S2 switch to Twinkle for 2 measures, then back to Sleeping. It is as if a toddler pressed all the toys’ “on” buttons at once, and everything is playing/singing at the same time.
Up to this point, all the songs have been initially presented in full phrases, even if more than one song at a time. With Itsy Bitsy Spider, even that changes. After the multi-layered approach to Sleeping/Bridge/Twinkle, Spider comes in with unison and homophony. Just as you get a nice sense of cohesion though, London Bridge comes back! This time, instead of one section overlapping another section, the entire choir shifts from one song to the next, in the middle of a phrase.
We get one complete line of London Bridge, and then the whole group shifts again, this time to a new song: The Wheels on the Bus. The piano, which has been serving as harmonic and metric support up to this point, stops playing, leaving the choir to a lovely four measure a cappella imitative sequence on the descending motive for “round and a round.” As the motive repeats higher to lower, higher to lower, through multiple entrances and choir sections, you get the sense that you are creating an aural circle, which is in motion, turning. So…the wheels go round, in a round, while creating something (aurally) round. It’s a nerdy multi-layered pun, it’s perfect. (And when an eagle-eyed student first realizes that’s what’s happening here, and shares with the class, everyone will have a really cool ‘meta’ moment, and it’s awesome!)
Ring around the Rosy makes its brief appearance at this point, only to be outdone by the swift return of Bingo. Here, true to the rhyme, the choir leaves out letters of the dog’s name, replacing them with stomp-claps. The asymmetrical nature of Caldwell’s version makes for a positively hilarious first rehearsal of this spot. My students went from “ooh fun claps” to “wait huh? what?” to raucous laughter in the span of 2 measures. It was a priceless moment in rehearsal, and a much-needed point of levity in a stressful week. Then everyone banded together, determined to figure it out on their own. They put their counting and rhythm skills to work and figured it out, making a genuine educational moment of it as well.
This selection by Stephen Caldwell was an unexpected find, and it has become an absolute favorite. Put aside any preconceived notions of singing “childish” songs with your women’s/treble choir, and go for it. you will not regret it!
|Music Source:||Children’s nursery rhymes|
|Composer:||Stephen Caldwell https://fulbright.uark.edu/departments/music/faculty-and-staff/index/uid/stephenc/name/Stephen-Caldwell/|
|Date of Composition:||2018|
|Text Source:||Children’s nursery rhymes|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Children, play, life, energy, joy|
|Voicing Details:||Three measures of harmonic divisi in the alto line, otherwise strict SSA|
|Tempo:||“As fast as possible”|
|Dedication:||For the University of Arkansas Women’s Chorus|
|Publisher:||Santa Barbara Music Publishing|
|Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing: |
Until next time!
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.