Week 23: Friday, August 24, 2018
“Hidden Memories (Déjà Vu)” by Gordon Thornett
Text by Linda Marcus
SSA, a cappella
Sweet, simple, innocent. Gordon Thornett’s setting of Linda Marcus’ text is all those and more. Based entirely on the pentatonic scale, the musical motifs are reminiscent of childhood songs and melodies, while the poetry recalls poignant moments from the past.
On first glance, this piece could be brushed off as “too easy” or “childish” (by the conductor or by the singers), because of the heavy reliance on a limited selection of pitches. Don’t be too quick to dismiss it though! I would argue that the limited range and pentatonic nature allow the ensemble to focus on so many other things in rehearsal. Shaping of phrases, ensemble blend, intonation, dynamics, and overall musicality are just a few aspects that can really take this song to the next level. [And, if you aren’t yet convinced of the power of the pentatonic scale, I encourage you to watch this clip of Bobby McFerrin at the World Science Festival, demonstrating the universality of the pentatonic pitch sequence!]
The text includes references to snowflakes and the white moon of winter, so this could easily be a non-religious/non-sacred addition to your November/December concert. It is much more than a seasonal piece though. It is also a beautiful tribute to memory and the passage of time, if you need a selection about collective history, mindfulness, loss/grief, childhood, or aging.
Part of the unique beauty of Thornett’s setting is his variation of texture. The piece begins in unison, with small echoes from the other two voices. It then becomes a two-part canon, with one voice exactly mimicking the other after two beats. The dovetailing pitches and dynamics create a lovely series of ebbs and flows. After the two-part canon, the piece expands to three-part canon, with the same melodic material and two-beat delay.
After all three voice parts have completed the larger canon, the texture changes to three-part homophony, with strong vertical harmony. Next comes imitative but non-canonic SSA, and then another canonic passage to close the piece. The canons themselves are a bit haunting in how the pentatonic pitch patterns overlap, which makes the shifts from canonic to homophonic all the more striking.
For the canonic sections in particular, the teaching process can be greatly simplified in rehearsal by having everyone first learn the melodic material in unison. Then, once pitches and rhythms have been established, move into phrasing and shaping. After internalizing the phrasing and shaping, the choir can be divided into the appropriate voice parts to experience the canon as intended. Rehearsing the musicality of the material as a unison group can expedite the learning process, which will help solidify the identity of each voice section as they split up into parts.
Dynamics range from ppp to f, and include both long slow diminuendos and molto legato crescendos. An ensemble that sets aside time to study the dynamics, the phrasing, and the word stress can create quite a number of beautiful moments within the work.
This selection will quite likely make its way into my next festival guest conductor repertoire list. It is the perfect piece to start a rehearsal block. By first singing the canonic sections in unison, it can get everyone learning how to shape a phrase and breathe together as a new collective unit. There are so many moments of quiet introspection or emotive phrasing. I am definitely looking forward to programming this lovely meditative work with my multi-level college choirs, or for a future festival.
|Title:||Hidden Memories (Déjà Vu)|
|Date of Composition:||2014|
|Author/Text Source:||Linda Marcus|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Winter, memory, grief/loss, history, mindfulness|
|Voicing Details:||Unison, 2pt, 3pt|
|Tempo:||90, Andante semplice|
|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.