Week 11: Friday, June 1, 2018
“Now Let Me Fly!”
Traditional spiritual, arr. Stacey V. Gibbs
SSAA divisi, a cappella
Equally suited to a large festival chorus or a small-but-mighty advanced ensemble, this spiritual arrangement by Stacey V. Gibbs is a great addition to your women’s/treble repertoire list.
Known for his amazing choral arrangements of spirituals, Gibbs’ work is frequently programmed for All-States and Festivals, as well as regional and national conferences. So, it is no surprise that this piece would be an excellent selection for your large SSAA ensemble or festival chorus. The unexpected point with this selection though is that it can function equally well with a “small-but-mighty” ensemble (an advanced group of limited size). Often, arrangements like this one are excellent for a large choir but are difficult to pull off if you have smaller numbers. However, because of the frequent step-wise motion, motivic passages, and tight harmonies, a group of 8-16 strong singers could also confidently perform this selection.
I programmed this with my 12-person advanced group, and it was one of their favorites that semester. Challenging, with only one or two singers per part, yet attainable – and it gave them a great sense of accomplishment to do such a “big” arrangement with their smaller ensemble. So, no matter if you have a large ensemble or a small-but-mighty one, this spiritual arrangement is worth your time to review.
The main material is the traditional spiritual “Now Let Me Fly,” contrasted with Albert E. Brumley’s “I’ll Fly Away” from 1932. Gibbs comments on this choice of song pairing in the program notes, saying that “this setting celebrates overcoming life’s challenges and obstacles. The introductory hymn, ‘I’ll Fly Away’ serves as a catalyst from trial and longing to victory and triumph!” [composer’s notes, inside front cover of score]
Listed as SSAA divisi, the voicing often feels like SSA+SSA or SA+SA, with two main motivic ideas happening at once, and multiple voices/harmonies on each. The work begins with a slow opening in 3/4, with upper voices and lower voices contrasting each other, each group moving in tight thirds and fourths. The intro closes with a sonorous fermata, spanning nearly two octaves. However, because of the voicing and divisi, no part is more than a third or fourth apart from their nearest neighbor, which makes this not as scary as it seems for a smaller group!
After the intro, we move into the 4/4 section, marked “Rhythmically” / MM=132. Sometimes the voices are paired outer (S1, A2) vs. inner (S2, A1), and sometimes the pairs are upper vs. lower like the beginning. Either way, you generally have two contrasting ideas, each in 2-3 part harmony, or all voices are on the same material (in 4-5 part harmony). Every subsequent verse allows for contrast of dynamics and articulations, along with strong syncopations and tight harmony.
In the third section, the tempo slows, and the ensemble now moves rhythmically together on the same material, providing an excellent opportunity for text shaping and syllabic stress.
The final closing section is a layer-cake of four different lines, each with their own 2-3 part harmony. [For a smaller ensemble, this page may require some re-assigning of parts, to make sure everything is covered.] The layers build from the bottom, with A2 presenting their line alone, then adding A1, then S2, then S1. Once the structure is built, it can be repeated as desired. The arrangement ends with a dramatic 7-part fortissimo fermata spanning two octaves (with optional 8th-part [C6] to top things off, if you have a soprano or two comfortable in that range). All voices are no more than a fifth apart though, with many at a third or fourth.
The bottom line is that with this spiritual arrangement by Gibbs, you will find a strong addition to your concert programming. And whether you have a large festival chorus or a small-but-mighty ensemble, this setting is viable for groups of all sizes.
|Title:||Now Let Me Fly!|
|Source:||traditional spiritual, incorporating I’ll Fly Away (Brumley)|
|Arranger:||arr. Stacey V. Gibbs|
|Date of Arrangement:||2014|
|Listed Voicing:||SSAA divisi|
|Voicing Details:||SSAA div to 8|
|Ranges:||S1: C4-A5 (C6) [tessitura to F5]|
S2: A3-Eb5 [tessitura to C5]
A1: G3-D5 [tessitura to A5]
A2: F3-D5 [tessitura to F4]
|Tempo:||Freely, then Rhythmically/MM=132|
|Commissioning Ensemble:||Choral Consortium: St. Olaf College (Sigrid Johnson), Saint Mary’s College (Nancy Menk), Lawrence University (Phillip Swan), Millikin University (Beth Holmes), Iowa State University (Kathleen Rodde)|
|Series:||Jo-Michael Scheibe Choral Series|
|Publisher:||Walton Music WJMS1137/HL00137951|
|Further descriptions and details, including 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.