#38: Friday, December 21, 2018
“A Round For Hildegard” by Luke Mayernik
Text from a traditional English carol
SSSSAAA, viola, cello, percussion
On first glance, “A Round for Hildegard” may seem a bit daunting, with a listed voicing of SSSSAAA. Do not be deterred though! At its core, it is a large round in seven parts. With strings, percussion, and handclaps, this song joyfully rings in the holiday season for your advanced or small-but-mighty women’s/treble ensemble.
In true Renaissance spirit, this piece has sections in simple and compound meter, moving between smoother lyrical portions and lively dance motifs. The shifting meter adds energy and excitement, while the contrast between lyrical and lively provides variation in style.
In conducting or performing this piece, the form is of significant note. It starts with two large sections, and then breaks down into smaller ideas until the end. Understanding the style of each large section will go a long way towards understanding the full piece.
The first/opening large section is a round in seven voices in 2/4, with viola and cello. The four soprano lines all share the same material, starting on B. The three alto lines sing very similar melodic material, but starting a fifth lower on E. Some phrase entrances are offset by one beat, while others are by two beats. The result is a complex-sounding series of seven voice lines on each phrase.
The secret behind the curtain of those cascading entrances is this: rhythms are limited to quarter notes, half notes, and eighth notes, and all pitches fall within the diatonic structure of the key. So, not as complex to learn as it sounds!
An ideal way to start rehearsals for this piece might be to group the sopranos and altos together in two large sectionals, and have them all learn S1 or A1 respectively. This is a great opportunity for solfege, chanting of rhythms, and leadership opportunities for section leaders. Once they can successfully perform the two lines as sections, then they can be assigned their real voice parts. At this point, they will all know the material already – once they note their specific offset entrances, it is just a small jump to successful seven-part singing.
The second large section of the song is in 6/8 and more buoyant. The eighth note stays constant, with the beat shifting from earlier quarter note pulse to dotted quarter pulse. The style marking reads “with joy and expectation; like a courtly renaissance dance.”
This portion still feels like a round, but is technically more a combination of permutations on a particular motive. The first phrase involves six entrances of the same pattern – at do, mi, so, then again at do, mi, and so. The seventh voice part (Alto 3) enters with egg shakers. Tambourine and hand drum join here as well. The viola and cello continue, but now on rhythmic ostinato patterns, rather than the lyrical material of earlier.
After the first 6-part iteration is complete, the imitative qualities continue but with more variations: S1 has the motive at do, while S2/S3 enter simultaneously at mi & so. A1 and S4 add handclaps – same pattern but offset by an eighth note. For another phrase, S3 starts, and the motive moves from S3 to S2 to S1, instead of top-down.
Within this second large section, the pitch patterns are frequently stepwise and primarily diatonic. The rhythms now involve 16th notes (beat subdivision from the dotted quarter), but are often repeated patterns. The singers’ clapping rhythms may look complicated, but they can be easily grasped with some brief study. The tambourine and hand drum player, as well as the strings, need to be solid players with good rhythmic skills.
Once these two large sections are complete, there are shorter, smaller sections of differing styles. One is a metrical interplay switching between measures of simple and compound meter. Another is a beautiful homophonic section, completely a cappella. This feels like a gorgeous chorale, and is a lovely contrast to the previous rhythmic iterations.
Then the 6/8 rhythm intensity returns, now with singers having varieties of “la la” and handclaps, along with strings, egg shakers, tambourine, and drum. With borrowed rhythms and lots of rests, this will likely be the most difficult section to learn and put together. The piece closes with the original 6/8 motive and a strong chord from the voices.
The text of Luke Mayernik’s work involves five phrases, taken from the English carol “There is no rose,” c.1420.
|Equal in form.
|Let us rejoice.
|Let us follow.
I have not yet had a chance to perform or conduct this work, but it is on my “to program” list for next year’s holiday concerts. I have a small-but-mighty advanced ensemble, and I look forward to upping their rhythmic-reading game with this piece. It will be a challenge, but if I focus on the appropriate literacy patterns throughout the early semester, they will be ready. That gives us a selection to work on that I know will be an interesting and rewarding piece in both rehearsal and performance.
|A Round for Hildegard
| Luke Mayernik
|Date of Composition:
|From an English carol
|Date of Text:
|Winter Holiday, Christmas
|Primarily 7-part round
| S1: D#4-G#5
|Viola, Cello, Tambourine, Hand drum, Hand claps
|MM=76 (4/4 “Reflectively” and then 6/8 “Like a courtly dance”)
|To Kassidy Grace
| 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.