#66: Friday, December 4, 2020
“Music of Life” by B.E. Boykin
Text by George Parsons Lathrop
A few months back, a fellow choral conductor suggested I look at the works of contemporary composer B.E. Boykin, and I am glad they did!
In listening to Boykin’s pieces for women’s/treble ensemble, “Music of Life” jumped out at me. I liked the sound, the tone, the style. I liked that there was frequent unison, but also some lovely harmony. I liked the text. I hadn’t yet seen a score to peruse, but I knew I wanted to investigate further.
Boykin self-publishes through her own site, Klavia Press. https://www.klaviapress.com/ “Music of Life” is one of seven treble selections listed there. Only thumbnails are listed; you cannot view perusals on this site. But, you can get a perusal pdf by emailing the customer service address.
The text is a beautiful homage to music, nature, and life. It is one of those feel-good-about-music texts you could use in most any concert, and in some sacred settings as well. Great for a MIOSM event. Post-Covid, when we can safely get back to singing in person, in large groups, with actual audiences, I expect everyone will be looking for pieces that celebrate music and art and singing. This will be a great option!
The selections opens with a brief piano intro, and moves into unison choir. Compound meter lilt, with flowing piano. Minor. All very ethereal and beautiful.
The first idea, and much of the second, is all unison, which makes this a great start-of-semester piece. Lots of opportunities to work on vowels and phrase-shaping, without chasing notes/parts. The second section includes some 2-part divisi, but returns to unison at the end of the phrase.
The third section is written in three parts, but scaffolded as in a partner-song, working up to tutti SSA. The note in the score says to sing this section multiple times – with each part presenting their line alone, and then all parts together. So, the end result is a lovely 3-part harmony with a polyphonic feel. But, much like a partner song, there is reinforcement of each line first, before singing together. [The music is marked Group 1, 2, & 3, but the ranges aren’t equal, so standard SSA works out well here.]
From there, the song moves into a nice solid homophonic SSA ending, closing in a strong major chord.
The work is in d-minor, with only diatonic notes (except that Picardy third in the final chord). It is easily learned on solfege, and a good piece to teach or reinforce minor-key reading. Ranges are limited. Melodic motion is often step-wise with tonic-triad leaps; there are few jumps of awkward intervals. Rhythms are all entry-level compound meter: eighths, quarters, and dotted quarters, with only the occasional tie.
My only complaint with this selection is the layout. There are some places where it goes between 2-note harmony and 3-note harmony, but all on the same staff. So, you will have to take a moment to assign which note the S2s sing, when there aren’t three pitches. Additionally, dynamics and phrase markings are absent. Arguably, this could be a great teaching moment for the ensemble, to work through phrasing and dynamic decisions corporately, and add them in together! Again, the song itself is lovely, but the printed layout isn’t 100% polished, which might lead to some extra moments needed for clarification in rehearsal.
Separate from considering the text or the music itself, which makes this a great piece on its own poetic and musical merits, I can see this piece fulfilling a number of needs when it comes to choosing repertoire:
–If your groups are primarily comfortable in unison, but you want to expand into some harmony
–If your groups are comfortable with multi-part music, but you want to re-focus their vowels and phrasing through unison work
–If your group sizes and part distribution and rehearsal plans are all over the map due to Covid, and you want a piece that will be successful even if your numbers/parts/modality keep changing
–if your groups are used to “harder” music, but you are looking for an anthem to bring them together and energize them
–if your groups are strong with minor solfege and compound meter, and you want a sight-readable piece for them
–if your groups are just beginning to explore compound meter and/or minor sight-reading, and you want a piece to tie-in to your literacy teaching
–if you have multiple groups of differing levels, and want a feel-good “music is amazing” piece they can all sing together
I could go on. I really do see many many scenarios in which this piece could be used – by groups of all sizes and levels. The text paints a beautiful picture. The music is hauntingly elegant. And the piece is neither childish-sounding, nor too difficult, which is its own sweet-spot for treble/women’s repertoire. I strongly encourage you to take a look at this selection for an upcoming concert. Plus, make sure to take a look at the composer’s other works for treble/women’s choir as well.
|Title:||Music Of Life|
|Composer:||B.E. Boykin |
|Date of Composition:||2015|
|Text Author:||George Parsons Lathrop (“Music of Growth” from Rose and Roof-Tree: Poems, 1875)|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Music, song, nature, earth, growth|
|Voicing Details:||Unison, SA, and SSA|
|Ranges:||S1: D4-F#5 |
|Publisher:||Klavia Press |
Until next month!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is Director of Choral Activities and associate professor of music at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.