#35: Friday, November 30, 2018
“Ad Amore” by Lee R. Kesselman
Text by Dante Alighieri
SSAA, unpitched bells
This piece clocks in under 2 minutes, but it hits the ground running and keeps your attention the whole way. Festive fanfare rhythms, close harmonies, and lively unpitched bells, coupled with Dante’s spirited text, make “Ad Amore” an excellent choice for the opening of your next concert sequence.
The song begins with a roll of bells. In the score’s notes, the composer mentions that these should be unpitched bells, such as triangles and other metal objects of varying sizes, as opposed to orchestra bells or handbells. The goal is to create a cacophonous sound like pealing church bells or a call to attention.
When I first programmed this piece for an honor choir, we raided the band room of the school where we were rehearsing (with permission!), and grabbed just about every cymbal, triangle, cowbell, crotale,and metal object that we could get our hands on. The sound needs to be stopped and started on cue, so windchimes and the like are not a great choice. Singers loved the chance to add an extra layer to their own music making.
Once the bells have demanded the audience’s attention, the energy immediately continues with forte, marcato, and accented seconds and fourths from the voices. The intensity is palpable, and remains so for the next 1min 40sec.
Because it does not require piano accompaniment, the selection can be performed from a variety of locations or configurations within your concert space. In addition to an on-the-risers traditional start, I’ve also had success performing this piece as a flash-mob-style opener, where singers enter unassumingly from all different areas of the performing space and then ring their bells with abandon, usually startling the audience! Performing in the round can work well, provided you have enough singers to surround the space without feeling spread too thin.
Kesselman chose to use text from the early 14th century, by Italian poet Dante Alighieri:
e ineffabil bene
chè là suè, così
corre ad amore
com’ a lucido corpo
—Purgatorio,Canto XV, lines 67-69
That Goodness, infinite and ineffable,
Which is above, runs to Love,
As light comes to polished bodies. [translation by the composer]
My singers definitely enjoyed working with an Italian text in choir. Often, they sing Italian in their solo voice work, but less frequently in a choral setting. There are some specific Italianate sounds that occasionally stymie a large choir – double Ls, double Gs, the [e] vowel, dental Ts vs hard Ts, etc. – but the IPA transcription included in the score can help significantly with those questions.
Kesselman’s musical setting is active and animated, and accessible to choirs of all sizes. I’ve performed this with both a curricular choir of twelve and a festival choir of 85. Ranges are limited, and the majority of the selection is homophonic. There are a few measures of divisi, but these are limited to an added second or third within the chord cluster.
One technical point to prepare for is the octave drop used in the Alto 2 line. Their part often jumps from A4 to A3 on the same vowel. The tendency will be to fall into this drop with added weight and volume. This can be a great place to reinforce good vocal technique for all singers, with vocalises and warmups that focus on descending an octave without adding heft.
Some rhythms may be challenging on first read (borrowed triplets, sixteenths with ties), but as all voice parts perform these rhythms, they will come together quickly. The composer’s use of tight intervals between voices adds energy and drive through the dissonance. Much movement is stepwise though, so the intervals are not difficult to find.
The aspect that interested my singers the most, I think, was the wide range of dynamics used in the 28 measures of music – including a drop from ff to pp in just one measure’s time. There are also opportunities for rubato shifts to the tempo, and moments to savor the diction.
As much of the piece is accented and marcato, the few legato measures provide a dramatic contrast. In particular, there is a four-bar sequence of staggered entrances in 5/8, which is the first legato, the first non-homophonic phrase, and the first asymmetrical meter. It culminates in all four voices being only major seconds apart from each other.
Frequently, up-tempo, energetic selections can be difficult to find for women’s/treble chorus (they do exist!…just fewer and farther between than TTBB or SATB ensembles.) And those that are out there are often meatier closers, or pieces more suited for the middle of a set. This crunchy, driving work by Lee Kesselman can serve as a wonderful opening focus-point, giving your concert just the right start.
| Lee R. Kesselman
|Date of Composition:
|Purgatorio, Canta XV, lines 67-69
|Date of Text:
|Life, journeys, love
|SSAA w minimal divisi
|Unpitched bells (triangles, crotales, metal-on-metal)
|Allegro Community Children’s Choir for Allegro Con Brio, Christy Elsner, director
|CME in High Voice by Doreen Rao, edited by Sandra Snow
|Boosey & Hawkes
| Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btwR25Gjcoc (Georgia GMEA All-State 2012 SSAA)
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.