The February 2022 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Contemporary Choral Music in the Classroom: A Conductor’s Guide to Katarina Gimon’s Elements” by Christina Beasley. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the introduction.
Contemporary music allows the performers to create their own interpretation of the piece and take ownership of the composition that is being presented to their audience. With aleatoric sections of a piece, the performers have control over what the piece sounds like at any given performance, and this sound is always changing. Through the freedom of graphic notation, students are encouraged to make their own conclusions and creatively decide how they want the music to sound. This provides an engaging individual experience for the singer and a communal engagement in the anticipation of what the other choir members will do. Contemporary music in this context is important because it gives choral conductors the opportunity to explore diverse works within the classroom. This diversity does not just come from diverse notation, sounds, and exploration of the human voice but also diversity through polystylism, commonly found in contemporary music.
Many twenty-first-century compositions are using experimental techniques such as graphic notation and aleatoric passages while still making the music accessible to amateur or younger choirs. Canadian composer Katerina Gimon explores aleatoric singing, graphic notation, overtone singing, and body percussion in Elements, her 2013 composition for mixed choir. This piece is approachable and appropriate for singers in the classroom and is a wonderful way to introduce a youth choir to some extended techniques of the voice.
Elements is a choral work written in four movements, each depicting one of the four classical elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Each movement begins with a set of words used to describe the characteristics of the element. Elements “explores the wide capabilities of the human voice—from overtone singing, to vocal percussion, to colourful vocal timbres.” There is no text throughout the piece except in movement two, “Air”; otherwise, only phonemes are used to convey the feeling of each element. “Fire” is commonly performed alone. In 2019, the Vancouver Youth Choir performed “Fire” at the ACDA National Conference in Kansas City, MO. The performance showcased the explosive and energetic piece with an ensemble of singers aged 15-24. Watch the performance at the link here.
Read the rest of this interview in the February 2022 issue of Choral Journal.