#46: Friday, March 29, 2019
“8 Ways to Look at a Window” by Marjorie Halloran
Text by Francesca Myhrvold
SSAA, a cappella
Marjorie Halloran is a composer I met at the ACDA Convention in Kansas City, at the Composer’s Forum. When I started speaking with her about works for women’s & treble choirs, I was immediately drawn to her piece “8 Ways to Look at a Window.” The collection of 8 miniatures is a wonderful set of character pieces with great glimpses of personality.
Halloran uses text by Francesca Myhrvold. The poetry tells the story of a girl who gets to choose a new bedroom in their house, instead of sharing with her sister. She chooses the smaller bedroom, with less closet space – but it has a window. Each snippet of text tells a different bit of the story – what she sees from the window, how the window lets in the cold air, and how the first glance through the windows makes her feel in the morning.
The composer notes in the score that each movement should be its own moment and idea, with a few seconds in between to clear the air. No pitches should be given between – ideally the choir can find their next pitch based on the previous movement so as not to disturb the narrative thread.
1. You’ll Be Cold at Night.
This movement is marked “Thoughtfully” at a tempo of mm=90. It opens with a small group or solo. In Eb major, it is entirely diatonic. Phrases are long and legato, with no beat divisions beyond the quarter note. There are a few motivic or imitative entrances, but most of the harmony is made up of stepwise dissonances. There are numerous shifts in dynamics, with some lovely stacked chords to savor. The narrator’s mother warns her that if she chooses the smaller room with the window, she’ll be cold at night from the draft.
2. Looking From My Lighted Room
The second vignette starts off faster (MM=130) and homophonic, but still in legato Eb major like the previous movement. It then shifts style and key, to E major with motivic eighth-note based entrances. The narrator sees “pinpricks of light,” which turn out to be windows of other houses in the distance. Upon realizing she can see them, she then wonders if they can see her.
3. Crueler Than a Locked Door
This 10-measure movement is angular and chromatic – marked “Arduous and sharp” with MM=70. Halloran alternates separate, accented f entrances with pp syncopated homophony. Then she moves into short, spaced-out staccato notes, as the narrator jerkily attempts to open a stuck window.
4. Last Thing I See
In 6/8, this snippet clocks in over 30 measures – one of the longest movements of the set. Marked “Relaxed” and MM=60, it is a bit of a lament that then turns cheerful. The movement begins in a lonely fashion with the text in the Alto 2s and supporting chord structure on “ooh” in the other voices. The narrator used to start and end her day looking upon her sisters. At first, she seems to be regretting the choice of having traded her sisters for a window. Then she gains energy with motivic entrances, homophonic text ostinato, and key changes, as she decides that waking up to the window isn’t that bad after all.
5. Made to be Transparent
Beginning in a nice homophonic G major, the start of the movement feels like a chorale. It quickly changes character though, with a shifting chord structure and unstable final chord, as the narrator contemplates how much the transparency of the window changes as it gets dark outside.
6. No Closet Space
Marked “Grandly” and MM=70, this segment feels as if the narrator is working through her buyer’s remorse from having chosen a room with no closet space. There are moments of c minor, with other non-diatonic chords thrown in the mix. As the narrator comes to happy terms with the fact she has a window, the key center shifts to a confident Eb major.
7. The Lake, the Sky, the City
The narrator’s attention shifts from lake to sky to city and back again, reveling in all the things she can see through her window. Beginning in a very consonant and mostly homophonic Bb Major, the piece moves through some accidentals, but it circles back to the starting key after a few measures. The joke at the end of the piece – a pp “who cares about closets” – will likely get a laugh from the audience. However, be sure to continue the focus into the last movement, so the audience doesn’t think the joke is the end of the full work.
8. Lets in the Good
The final movement of composition touches on the good and bad things the window lets in (air, cold, noise) and keeps from exiting (spiders, warmth, and the narrator herself). Chromatics make this one a bit tricky from a tonal perspective, but then the work finishes with a smooth pp Bb major.
I really enjoy the variety of styles, tempo, texture, dynamics, and tonality available in these 8 quick movements. Marjorie has such great musical instincts and technique – the different personality and character of each movement is immediately noticeable both to the singers and the audience. This piece gives your ensemble so many wide-ranging opportunities for musical growth and expression – all in a nice, compact 8-minute package. I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to program it with my ensembles.
|8 Ways to Look at a Window
|Date of Composition:
|Francesca Myhrvold, from River of Words
|Date of Text:
|Youth, Childhood, Nature
|Each movement has its own tempo/character
|Marcia Hodges New Music Fund: Youth Inspiring Youth – Commissioning Emerging Composers
|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.