Phoenix, 2/23/10

I have set myself the task of composing an a cappella SATB piece by Saturday in order to enter into a competition the deadline of which is Monday. That means I have to have it finished by Saturday so I can polish it by Sunday and pop it in the post first thing Monday morning to have it postmarked March 1.

(I’m also submitting the SATB arrangement of “Sonnet 18” to the Yale Glee Club Emerging Composers Competition , that goes in the mail tomorrow.)

Anyway, I asked my fellow Lichtenbergians to suggest a text yesterday. Lots of good responses from them, of course. I really really liked Mike’s suggestion of Edward Lear, and was set to compose “The Dong with the Luminous Nose” or “The Jumblies.” Ironically, in searching my hard drive for the text to “The Jumblies,” I came across a list I had started back in 2008 of my Lichtenbergian goals, and for 2008, one of them was to set “The Jumblies.”

I began thinking of textures for “The Dong” and had given quite a bit of thought to it, using the voices as orchestral accompaniment along with the text, but I think it’s too long. The piece has to be 4—8 minutes long, and I was having to cut sections before I even began. I wasn’t sure I could get it all done by Saturday. It’s not strophic; Lear wallows in the verse without regard to regularity, so I wouldn’t be able to cheat by repeating verses like I did with “Blake Tells the Tiger the Tale of the Tailor.”

Fortunately, one of Marc’s texts was equally tempting, and a great deal shorter if, naturally, a lot more opaque:

I don’t want to be a phoenix.
I want to be something learning to walk
Like the corpse at a funereal dance.
I want to learn the rainbow’s backstroke.
I want release from restraint.

What to do?

The sky scares me.
Graceless hands reach out of the clouds.
Are these those clouds of unknowing
The books talked about?
Am I crossing into wonder?

What to do?

I feel so helpless.
All the familiar doctors
Touching the familiar folds
And I quake in the same cold ways.

Am I made of water? Why?

What to do, indeed?

Here’s my first stab, score [pdf] and sound [mp3]. It’s only the first phrase. I’m thinking of marking the opening wail Keening, because that’s what Marc would do.

At the moment, I have a vague plan. The first stanza will be fairly knotted, as you’ve heard, with a little loosening at “I want release…” but knotting back up with “What to do?” The second stanza will, despite itself, begin to cross into wonder. The second “What to do?” will be unable maintain its confident despair. The last stanza will be almost resigned to its loss of nihilism. I’m almost certain that’s not what Marc intended.

Thinking in a cappella is very hard for me.

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