Week 4: Friday, April 13, 2018
“She Who Makes Her Meaning Clear (Gamba Adisa)” by Joan Szymko
Text by Audre Lorde
SSAA div, hand percussion
Commissioned for the 25th anniversary of MUSE: Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir, this song celebrates the amazing power that is present when we recognize our fears, and dare to overcome them. [Over the years, MUSE has commissioned a multitude of exceptional new works for women’s/treble voices, often with a focus on social justice and activism. I encourage you to peruse their repertoire and commission list. This work is also part of a series by composer Joan Szymko called “Dare to Be Powerful: Bold Repertoire for Women’s Voices.”]
The primary text is from Audre Lorde, a self-described “black feminist lesbian mother poet.” Lorde wrote this excerpt in her Cancer Journals while undergoing treatment for breast cancer:
“When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
Additional text is the repetition of the name “Gamba Adisa,” which translates to “Warrior, She Who Makes Her Meaning Clear.” This was the name that Lorde took for herself near the end of her life, in an African naming ceremony.
The work itself is divided into two main sections:
- a powerful, emotive opening and middle, with multiple vertical/harmonic divisi, and minimal rhythmic independence of voice parts; and
- a faster, energetic, closing section, with ostinato layers (A2, A3), upper 3pt grouping (S1, S2, A1), and hand percussion.
This piece lends itself to groups of all sizes. The selection was a hit with my small-but-mighty advanced ensemble (12-14 voices, ~one-quarter music majors), and could be as few as one person per part. It has also been done with large honor choirs, including 2013 National Women’s Honor Choir, led by Sigrid Johnson. [However, because of the shifting divisi, programming it for a festival or combined choir that the conductor doesn’t see during the part-assignment phase will take clear pre-planning and communication.]
With minimal chromaticism, the piece is strongly tonal and consonant. The primary learning challenge lies in the initial “who sings which note” aspect of the divisi, and in the changing of meter from 4/4 to 5/4 to 3/2 to 3/4. The metric variations though are tied directly to the text, and flow easily when you look beyond counting the individual beats to seeing the larger phrases. Opportunities abound for a strong ensemble connection to shifting dynamics and tempo/rubato.
The closing section starts quietly, with A3 on an ostinato phrase. A2 joins next, along with hand percussion. S1/S2/A1 form a trio above the ostinato lines, sometimes entering together and sometimes in imitation. This ebbs and flows together for the remainder of the work. (When we learned the piece, this last section is where we initially started, with each section learning their layer individually in the first rehearsal, then coming together that same rehearsal to put the layers together.)
Joan has created a work that is both moving and reflective, and also driving and powerful. In the composer’s notes on her website, she writes that this piece is “Part invocation, part call to action, part celebration.”
|Title:||She Who Makes Her Meaning Clear (Gamba Adisa)|
|Composer:||Joan Szymko (www.joanszymko.com)|
|Date of Composition:||2008|
|Text Source/Author:||Audre Lorde (1934-1992)|
|Date of Text:||1982|
|Subject(s):||Courage, fear, warrior spirit, inner strength|
|Listed Voicing:||SSAA w/ divisi|
|Voicing Details:||1st section: Vertical harmony with minimal independence of voice lines – SSA, SSAA, SSAA div, SSA div + small group|
2nd section: Multiple stacked lines – SSAAA
|Ranges:||S1: D4-Ab5 (tessitura: F4-F5)|
A3: Eb3(opt. D3)-F4 (tessitura: F3-F4)
Need a solid low alto section
|Accompaniment:||1st section: a cappella|
2nd section: hand percussion
|Tempo:||1st section: 70-86|
2nd section: 100
|Commissioning Ensemble:||MUSE Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir, Catherine Roma, Artistic Director, to celebrate 25 years of musical excellence and social change|
|Series:||Dare To Be Powerful: Bold Repertoire for Women’s Voices|
|Further descriptions and details, including composer’s 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.
Email: Bio: https://www.hollins.edu/directory/shelbie-wahl-fouts/