Week 28: Friday, September 28, 2018
“Where Can I Turn For Peace?” by Joleen G. Meredith, arr. Dwight Bigler
Text by Emma Lou Thayne
SSAA div, a cappella
Virginia Tech is just down the road from where I teach at Hollins. Dwight Bigler is an associate professor of music at Tech, and their Director of Choral Activities. In addition to his conducting responsibilities, he compositions are published with Walton Music, Hinshaw Music, Oxford University Press, Alliance Music, and EC Schirmer. For a more detailed bio, see www.dwightbigler.com.
Given our proximity, Dwight and I run into each other frequently at adjudications, conferences, and meetings. In 2015, an ensemble I was accompanying was working on his SATB div version of “The First Noel.” I loved his take on the familiar carol and asked him what he had in terms of rep for women’s chorus. This arrangement of Meredith & Thayne’s hymn came up, and I immediately jumped at it. It is primarily strophic, with three verses. [As you are reading further, be sure to listen to the elegant performance by BYU Women’s Chorus of this arrangement.]
The original hymn was penned in 1971 by Joleen G. Meredith (music) and Emma Lou Thayne (text). The two women, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, were tasked with creating a hymn for the LDS Young Women’s Conference that year. Working over the telephone, Thayne would create a line of text, and then Meredith would rough out a musical setting. Together, they wrote the hymn, phrase by phrase.
Thayne is quoted as saying the text of the work came to her in a turbulent time, when she and her family were struggling with health issues and overwhelming obstacles. Meredith mentioned that they both saw this hymn as a solace and succor for mental illness, having faced challenges personally and within their own families. The beauty and the strength with which these two women met life’s tests is evident in their poignant song. For more background and history on the creation of the original hymn, click here for the LDS Radio History of Hymns broadcast.
My choir performed it at our campus holiday event that year, in the thematic “Peace” section of the program. They loved it so much that it also made a subsequent concert appearance in the spring of that same year. The text is poignant, and relevant to many of the emotional journeys my students found themselves facing in their young lives. Dwight’s setting is wonderful, with sweeping lines, beautiful dissonances, and enormous emotive potential.
At that time, my advanced ensemble had 14 students. I liked to think of it as a “small but mighty” ensemble. A handful of the first-year singers that semester were also in my sight-singing class as potential music majors/minors, so I was determined to choose music through which I could reinforce their literacy-in-progress from the very beginning. Pedagogically, this setting of “Where Can I Turn For Peace?” was a perfect choice. It begins in F# major, and all pitches exist within the diatonic framework. That meant every single note could be learned on solfege, which was excellent for my teaching goals that concert cycle.
After two verses, his arrangement modulates to G major, which gave me the added chance to emphasize the functionality and transferability of movable-do, and to teach them how to handle modulations in solfege/analysis. Rhythms are primarily quarter and half notes, which meant students could focus their literacy efforts on the pitches without feeling overwhelmed. There was enough divisi in certain areas to create lush dissonance and resolution, but not so much that my singers were spread too thin. Additionally, many phrases include step-wise motion, which was another key to success with in-progress solfege skills.
Outside of the pedagogical literacy connections and the relatable text, Dwight’s setting was also perfect for my group in another way too: it gave the group numerous opportunities to grow together musically. Solfege and takadimi are excellent tools for teaching pitches and rhythms, and we utilized both in learning the piece. As an ensemble though, it was the dynamics and phrasing that really allowed the piece to take shape.
There are numerous breaths marked in the music, all at purposeful places. Working to feel those breaths together, along with any related tempo changes, was a quality exercise in group communication. I remember a particular rehearsal moment, in which we switched off the room lights and only had ambient early-evening light from the shaded windows. I asked the students to sing through the song in that near-darkness, focusing on what they could hear, not what they could see. Pushing forward with energy, pulling back with reverence, savoring a harmony, or honoring the silence of a breath – so many of these small moments came alive at that point.
Whether you are looking for an addition to a peace-themed school concert, a song to showcase your church choir’s women/treble singers, or a chance to grow together as an ensemble, Dwight Bigler’s arrangement provides many beautiful opportunities for these amazing moments to occur.
|Title:||Where Can I Turn For Peace?|
|Source:||LDS Hymn – music by Joleen G. Meredith; |
text by Emma Lou Thayne
|Arranger:||Dwight Bigler |
|Date of Publication:||2008|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Peace, comfort, hope, solace. Sacred hymn.|
|Voicing Details:||SSAA, with some divisi; max 6 pitches at a time|
|Publisher:||Hinshaw Music, Inc.|
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.