One from the Folder: Repertoire Thoughts for Women’s/Treble Choirs
By Shelbie L. Wahl-Fouts
#32: Friday, October 26, 2018
“The Road Not Taken” by Michael Bussewitz-Quarm
Text by Robert Frost
Decisions. Choices. Possibilities. Self-doubt. Hindsight. Individualism. Rationalization. Robert Frost’s iconic poem delves into these ideas and more. This spirited choral work by Michael Bussewitz-Quarm, “The Road Not Taken,” is a lively, lovely setting of Frost’s text, perfect for your women’s/treble choir.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
–Robert Frost, In “Mountain Interval” (1916)
The Frost poetry is a work familiar to many individuals, from a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. There is slight question as to whether the poem is straight-forward, or if it was written with some irony, poking fun at one of Frost’s friends for his perceived pattern of indecisiveness. Either way, there are plenty of resources available to assist in studying the text itself. Given the poem’s ubiquitous nature in popular culture, it can be a draw to both singers and audience. Choices and decisions, large and small, are the backbone of our human existence; they shape who we were, who we are, and where we are heading in the future.
From the start, rhythm, meter, and text drive this work. Bussewitz-Quarm’s composition opens with a springy piano introduction in compound meter – switching from 6/8 to 9/8 and back. Some later 6/8 measures have wandering styles – most feel compound-duple (1+a 2+a / ta-ki-du ta-ki-du), but there are occasional measures still barred as compound-duple but which feel slightly like simple-triple (1+2+3+, ta-di ta-di ta-di).
Adding to the metric energy are frequent 7/8 and 9/8 measures. These moments of irregular meter give levity and forward motion. They can be tricky to read the first time though, if your ensemble isn’t familiar with mixed-compound and asymmetrical meters. Make sure to plan some time in rehearsal for patsching the meter, chanting the rhythm, and agreeing on the breakdown of 2+2+3/3+2+2/2+3+2/etc.
The day I handed out the piece, I split the choir up into small groups, across sections. Each group was asked to decide how certain asymmetrical measures were divided. Once each group had come to a conclusion, they presented their decisions and supporting rationale to the class. This exercise helped involve the students in the thought process, and engaged them in understanding the metric aspects of the work.
Within these meters, the rhythms are almost exclusively quarters, eighths, and dotted quarters. So, once the meters are understood, the rhythms themselves are not difficult to coordinate.
At the opening, the vocal lines start in two parts. Voices begin in unison for one note, but quickly go their separate directions, just as Frost’s roads diverge in the woods. Everything is 2pt homophony for the first 2/3 of the song – with harmonic differences between the lines, but no rhythmic differences.
The first split into 3pt (SAA) occurs at m40. This SAA entrance is imitative for roughly two measures, with each voice part entering separately. This is the only imitative, non-homophonic phrase in the song: “Yet knowing how way leads onto way…” It is as if the singers are seeing the varying roads and choices available to them, fanning out in front of their view.
The texture then quickly returns to homophony, but now in 3pt harmony. When the “two roads” text returns, the divisi returns to 2pt as in the beginning. The song itself is listed as SAA, but, technically speaking, is in two parts for the majority of the work.
This piece is a great way to focus on mixed and asymmetrical meters. You can work on metric accuracy, without complex rhythms, polyphony, part independence, or heavy divisi. It is also a lovely choice to utilize for text clarity and diction. In terms of music literacy, the song is almost entirely within the key structure, so it can be easily connected to solfege and tonal systems.
If you have a “small-but-mighty” ensemble, this can also be a wonderful choice for that group. Since the divisi is mostly 2pt, the metric intricacies can be achieved quite well by a small ensemble with strong rhythmic understanding.
My own small-but-mighty group performed this in spring of 2018, and thoroughly enjoyed the energy and the unique style. They loved Michael’s setting, and Frost’s poem, and made a point to ask about other works by the same composer. That’s when I know I’ve made a real connection. (To that end, Michael has many commission consortiums coming up. Check them out on his website. I am hoping to participate in the SSAA Radium Girls project in 2019-2020!)
|Title:||The Road Not Taken|
|Composer:|| Michael Bussewitz-Quarm|
|Date of Composition:||2010|
|Author:||Robert Frost, from “Mountain Interval”|
|Date of Text:||1916|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Choice, decision-making, self-empowerment|
|Voicing Details:||Frequently 2-part, with some divisi into SAA|
|Ranges:|| S: F4-F5|
|Publisher:||MB Arts (https://mbqstudio.com/) MB1014-4RSA1-OV|
|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.