Week 26: Friday, September 14, 2018
“In the Lavender Stillness of Dawn” by Jocelyn Hagen
Text by Meggan Tavel
SSA, violin, cello, piano
I am always on the lookout for quality music by women composers and women authors. I am especially interested in works with musical and poetic depth – something my singers can sink their teeth into. I love it even more when I find music that fits all those criteria and is attainable (and yet still challenging!) for my choirs with varying ability levels. This selection by Jocelyn Hagen covers all those aspects and more. It was a true favorite of my singers this past spring.
To start with, Hagen’s musical setting includes violin, cello, and piano. It is at times both lush and spare, dramatic and calming. The piano spends much of the work in harp-like tuplets, while the strings carry more of the melodic nature of the accompaniment. I hesitate to call the strings an accompaniment though; they could perhaps more accurately be called another voice, another layer.
The strings and piano together create a lovely chamber unit with a unique character that brings so much to the composition. It’s important to note that for the chamber group to be fully successful, your pianist needs to be adept at playing light, clean tuplets, while your strings need to be spot-on with both counting and intonation.
The piece itself can be divided into three large sections – opening, middle/bridge, and closing. For the opening and closing of the work, the meter is primarily compound, with a marked tempo of 66. The piano’s subdivision moves the piece forward and harmonically supports the choral parts.
In the middle section, the beat division changes to simple meter – marked 80 and Brightly. The piano switches from its sextuplet arpeggios to repeated 8th note cluster chords, with jumping octaves. There is an extended bridge here with just the chamber trio, who are then re-joined by the voices. Together, the bridge builds and then leads into the closing section.
The composition was commissioned by Flower Mound High School Women’s Chorale (Dr. Mark Rohwer, director). According to a note by the composer Jocelyn Hagen on the Graphite Publishing website, she sent the Women’s Chorale a number of poems and they selected this one, by her cousin Meggan Tavel. The poetry is compelling, as well as introspective. It speaks of quiet beginnings and uncertain seas, of the cautious hope that comes with the dawning of a new day.
The overarching question is captivating for singers of any age – “Do I reach out to grasp my destiny?” Tavel’s poem paints an exquisite picture of the complex interplay between choice and opportunity. She speaks to the journey of self, as one navigates the decisions along the way.
The rhythmic structure is where the piece gets so much of its personality. Borrowed figures are abundant, which gives the work an “undecided” feeling in places. As noted above, the opening and closing sections are primarily compound meter, while the bridge is primarily simple meter.
However, most compound measures (9/8, 12/8) include duplet figures borrowed from simple meter. Similarly, most simple measures (3/4, 4/4) contain triplet figures borrowed from compound meter. Understanding and executing compound vs. simple meter, and borrowed rhythms, is crucial to the success of this piece. The interplay between compound and simple is in a way its own character, connecting to the themes of decision, journey, choice, and opportunity within the text.
The vocal lines of the work run the gamut from unison to 2-part to SSA. There are brief measures in which each vocal line has its own motivic responsibility, but for the most part all other choral passages are homophonic. Some phrases begin in unison, and then branch out into vertical harmony on a cadence point. Other sections are in three-part chordal harmony for the entirety of the phrase.
The harmonies do not align well with diatonic solfege, so you may need to seek other routes of teaching the pitches. Once learned though, the lines are innately singable and lyrical. Because the choral lines are almost entirely homophonic, the text is the same across all voices, with rare exception. This gives the full ensemble a myriad of opportunities to study word stress and craft a beautiful line of phrase together.
For a group just branching into compound vs. simple meter, the rhythmic structure will occupy the majority of your rehearsal time. With a group who can pick up the meter quickly, the chance to add color and depth through word stress can take this piece to a whole other level of musicality.
This work by Jocelyn Hagen is sure to be treasured by your women’s/treble ensemble. It has the potential to be an exceptional musical experience – from the inspirational text to the immersive tuplets to the gorgeous chamber ensemble. This was a fan favorite with both my students and the audience in a concert this past spring, and will definitely be on my future festival lists.
|Title:||In the Lavender Stillness of Dawn|
|Date of Composition:||2009|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Journeys, Choice, Empowerment, Self, Inner-strength|
|Voicing Details:||Unison, SA, SSA |
[Alto divides for one brief passage, but since S1/S2 are unison at that point, the divisi can be mitigated by bringing S2s down to cover]
|Accompaniment:||Violin, Cello, Piano|
|Tempo:||66 (smooth), 80 (brightly)|
|Commissioning Ensemble:||Flower Mound High School Women’s Chorale|
Dr. Mark Rohwer, director
|Publisher:||JH Music, distributed by Graphite Publishing|
|Further descriptions and details, including program 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.