#59: Friday, March 6, 2020
“The Bike Let Loose” by Edie Hill
Poetry by Serena Fusek
The composer’s website calls this song a “bright, athletic piece,” which “uses rapid notes and soaring melodic lines to create a fantastical ride for both singer and listener.” I couldn’t agree more! For choirs hailing from the Midwest, or anyone who wants to conjure up that small town atmosphere, this is definitely a selection to review.
The work is always in motion, imitating the bike mentioned in the title. The poem depicts small-town American Midwest – full of endless cornfields and few stoplights. You can feel the wind in your hair, and the cadence of the bike’s wheel beneath your feet.
I’m originally from flat-land Illinois cornfields, so this song absolutely paints a picture I know well. Between Serena’s poetry and Edie’s energetic composition, this is an enthusiastic, humorous addition to any program – especially for an ensemble that can relate to, or is trying to conjure up, the Midwestern small-town setting.
Vocal lines are generally rhythmically similar and homophonic, with only occasional imitative or polyphonic measures. Often, the voicing is S1/S2 vs A1/A2. There may be some harmony involved, but the rhythmic complexity is usually limited to two ideas. Instances of four separate entrances are few and far between. Ranges are limited – no more than a 10th, so most everything falls into a comfortable tessiture.
In terms of teaching the tonality of the piece, there are a number of altered chords and non-diatonic progressions, with occasional chromaticism. It would not be a forgiving selection to solfege! But, many phrases share similar harmonic motives, so the unfamiliar patterns can soon become familiar to the ensemble. Some vocal lines flow freely in stepwise or close motion, while other lines are somewhat disjunct in places. Again though, the similar motivic patterns can ease the difficulty of learning.
Regarding rhythm, there are frequent meter changes – 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 – and numerous tempo changes. Quarter note stays constant, but the shift between beats-per-measure keeps you on your toes. The piece slowly accelerates from beginning to end, but also has some abruptly slower tempi to accentuate certain portions of the text. Syncopations are common, along with other negation of strong beats by use of tied notes and purposefully placed accents.
Between meter and tempo changes, and syncopations, performers must have exceptional rhythmic accuracy. Diction itself is not an issue, as the text is set very clearly and syllabically—but accuracy of rhythms is especially foundational for clarity of text in performance.
Dynamics, accents, and other expression changes occur nearly every few measures. Performers need to be adept at quick contrasts and always on top of upcoming changes. Your accompanist needs to be equally, if not more, skilled with respect to rhythm, meter, and negation of strong beats. Good dexterity needed for the constant eighth-note patterns, especially as the tempo increases near the end.
I recently presented an interest session at OMEA conference in Ohio, focusing on Fierce/Fast/Feisty repertoire for women’s and treble choirs. This piece fits the bill for that theme, as it is constantly in motion, with a side of humor too! It’s a challenging piece but also a “fun” piece – a project your singers will enjoy tackling. Long live the cornfields! 🙂
|Title:||The Bike Let Loose|
|Date of Composition:||2004|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Small-town life, Midwest, bikes, corn, nature, humor|
|Commission:||This work was co-commissioned as a special project in the year 2004 by the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota and the Minnesota Music Educators Association.|
|Publisher:||Hummingbird Press ediehill.com|
|Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing: https://www.ediehill.com/works/bike-let-loose|
Until next time!
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.
Some source material for this week’s blog post was taken from my doctoral dissertation, “By Women, For Women: Choral Works for Women’s Voices Composed and Texted by Women.” https://tinyurl.com/ydeyuyk8