#54: Friday, September 6, 2019
“A Pavane for the Nursery” by Steven Sametz
Text by William Jay Smith
SSAA, a cappella
I have a 16-month-old son. I will fully admit that my brain has been drawn to “children’s music” this summer, be that music for children, to children, about children, or meant to be enjoyed by children. Given that, the title of Steven Sametz’ piece, based on the title of Smith’s poem, caught my attention as I was on the lookout for repertoire.
The text for this piece is a beautiful 1954 poem by U.S. poet Laureate William Jay Smith, which speaks of unending, undying, unceasing love. While the text is frequently used at weddings, the author’s alternate title “A Pavane for the Nursery” reminds us that it is equally appropriate as a love poem from parent to child. I could absolutely see myself saying the words to my sleeping child at he lays in my arms, and, in fact, did just that this evening as I was working on this blog.
Smith’s text has been set by a host of composers and performers – from Ned Rorem to folk artist Peter Mayer, plus numerous choral settings as well. Of these, Steven Sametz’ setting really stood out to me. It has a simple tuneful melodic structure, which fits with the strophic nature of the poem. The a cappella writing is unadorned and yet still intricate enough to command interest from the singers and audience.
The song opens in a flowing G major, and stays there for the first 16 bars. If your ensemble is reading on solfege, there is one si and one te – otherwise all diatonic pitches. And the rhythms are quarter notes/eighth notes – well within the grasp of an intermediate or stronger group of readers. Ranges are compact as well – no larger than an octave and a third.
After the initial 16 measures, the key moves from G to E major, where there are some small imitative moments and a few more accidentals. Then G major returns, along with the initial harmonic and melodic material, to form a nice ABA’.
This work is a perfect selection for when you need an easily readable-learnable song, that still captivates with beauty and nuance. It is something I know my singers can read without a lot of extra rehearsal time, but I also know they will enjoy the flowing phrasing and the lyrical structure.
Beyond the wonderful harmony, the dynamics are another excellent feature of the song. Never louder than mp, your ensemble will have ample opportunity explore the nuances of pp, p, and mp.
As I sit here watching my sleeping son, I am reminded of the beauty and the joy that comes from unconditional love. Sametz’ music and Smith’s text together put that feeling into existence as a song, and I couldn’t be more pleased for my singers to start working on it this fall.
|Title:||A Pavane for the Nursery (Now Touch the Air Softly)|
|Composer:||Steven Sametz (http://stevensametz.com/composer)|
|Date of Composition:||2013|
|Text title:||Now Touch the Air Softly|
|Author:||William Jay Smith (1918-2015)|
|Date of Text:||1954|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Love, children, families, significant others|
|Voicing Details:||SSAA, no divisi|
|Commissioning Ensemble:||Texas Lutheran University Women’s Choir; Dr. Douglas R. Boyer, conductor|
|Publisher:||Steven Sametz Publications, distributed by NoteNova|
|Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing: |
Until next month!
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.