Looking to commission a choral work/UPDATE
  • My pastor would like to commission a choral composition based on The Dream of the Rood. He has a specific sound in mind and has written up a pretty detailed description of what he is looking for. This would most likely be SAB with bass solo (the "voice" of the rood) and have a lean accompaniment. Since this is an ancient text, the musical style would be reminiscent of early compositions. He would love to support a young "up and coming" choral composer (Catholic, if at all possible), but would also be willing to discuss the concept with the more "seasoned". This is our (I'm the Director of Liturgical Music at his parish) first experience with commissioning a work, so if some of you knowledgeable forum members have insights to share with us about commissioning compositions, I would be pleased if you would share them with me. Also, if there is a budding composer in this good company, here is a file of the concept.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,083
    It's sort of inspiring that the pastor has some ideas already, but the way you describe the pastor's ideas gives me pause: if he already has a particular "vision" for a musical setting, then would he want the composer to follow those ideas 100%? Would he make the commission conditional on those wishes? It could lead to a frustrating experience for both patron and composer.

    Let me suggest an alternative approach: let the pastor find a composer whose work he likes, respects, admires; and then commission him or her to write the piece, without other recommendations or conditions -- well, except for specifying that it be a choral work; and specifying a due date.

    One way to sample the compositions of forum members is to look through the postings in the "New Compositions" category, and listen to the sound files available. Or perhaps some other readers could point to web sites where audio samples can be heard for recent compositions in Catholic music.
  • I second Chonak's advice:
    Find an artist whose work you admire and give him or her the commission without prescriptions. A good composer will naturally be sensitive to the inherent form and poetic dimensions of this marvelous text. Don't tell him what to do with it.
    (I hope that, when it's done, it will be shared with us here.)
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,103
    Thank you, Richard, for expressing what I have been feeling but couldn't put into words. There are also a few technical and other points.

    It is very difficult for a composer to set words to music when the final status of the words is in flux. Some negotiation is occasionally necessary, more often than not at the composer's behest. Also, on reading the provisional text a few times, I have trouble with its rhythm, which seems somewhat forced and even grammatically in error, as if it somehow has to fit the chosen rhymes: "hath spake" and "was shook" are glaringly wrong. And "startling" is two syllables, not three, at least in singing.

    If the first page of the file is meant to be a skeleton cover page for the finished work, then there are some problems with the wording:

    (a) "SAB choir with Bass Solo arranged for organ" doesn't quite make sense. I think it probably should read something like "SAB choir, bass solo and srgan" or "Bass solo, SAB choir and organ" ... "arranged" simply doesn't make sense here.

    (b) "A work based upon" is misleading at best, or just wrong. It should read something like "Text by Author Name, based upon" (the music is not based on the source of the text, nor is there any music of that era upon which to base the music).

    (c) "Arranged by John Doe" is wrong. It is "Composed by Composer Name" or 'Music by Composer Name" that is correct.

    (d) "& Commissioned" should just be "Commissioned"

    In summary, I would have the front page material read more or less as follows (centered text, as I can't do right justification here), which conveys the right attributions:

    For Bass solo, SAB choir and organ

    Composed by Composer Name
    Commissioned by Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church, Jasper, Georgia

    Text by Author Name, based on a portion of "The Dream of the Rood"

    I hope these comments help.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Thank you, chonak for your suggestions. Certainly I agree that trying to manage the creative energies of another would lead to a great deal of frustration, and I really don't think that's what our pastor is trying to do. I think more than anything he loves this text and loves sacred music. He wants to encourage new compositions that are in keeping with the Church's great patrimony. Still, I appreciate what you have to say and I know he will also. I will pass it on to him. Keep the ideas coming, friends. I respect the thoughts of all the good folks here at the forum!
  • Oh, gosh, my apologies to all. ChGiffen, the pdf is just a concept, a springboard, if you will. As I said, neither he nor I have ever commissioned a composition (although he has commissioned art work, two pieces . . . icons of Sts. Gregory and Ambrose already hang in the chancel. They will soon be joined by Cecilia and Hildegard), so really, the pdf was him dreaming on paper. So how does one convey one's thoughts about a piece that one is commissioning? And isn't a wonderful thing that our pastor wants to spend his own money on music? Seriously, folks. I am so blessed to work for this man!
  • For what it's worth, "shook" is an acceptable participle for "shake"; the OED says, "In educated use only arch[aic]."

    With that exception, I have to say I agree that the quality of the poetry is generally poor. Pseudo-archaic language should not be attempted by someone who does not know what he is doing. To point out two fairly obvious infelicities here, the correct period past tense of "dare" is the irregular "durst," not "dared," which is a far later formation; and "drench" historically meant "to make or force to drink," not "to get very wet." (As a side note, drink and drench form one of a set of ablaut (vowel-changing) pairs of English words in which one is intransitive and refers to doing an action and the other, the causative, is transitive and refers to causing to do the action; other examples are bite/bait, fall/fell, raise/rise, lie/lay, and sit/set.)

    I'm also not sure what was meant by "startling," but of the possible meanings the only conceivably apt one is "causing a shock of surprise," and that just makes for weird poetry here. And a past tense like "bowed" ought to be pronounced in two syllables "bowèd"; it generally would have been in English up until around 1700-1750.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Dear Ms. Scott, this is certainly an intriguing challenge for a number of reasons. I'm not going to discuss matters already addressed by my colleagues, but things I notice that seem still quite oblique and not knowing how fluid the criteria can be tolerated and welcomed.
    *Your pastor may be pursuing a wholly unknown notion of evocative emulation of a tradition, save for Sarum chant, of which may only eventuate in a product of imagination and invention, and he knows this because he's included the caveat of not going all Clannad/Enya/New Age as emblematic of the Pictish or other Scots' tribal music tradition. He does have the lyre/drum thing right as I have a tattoo of a 9th C. runic emblem of a Pict lyrist. But the constitutional elements, such as his mention of organum, are more likely to be vastly different from those of the Gallic and other regional monasteries of the ars antiqua, and certainly if there's any correlation with the later Notre Dame schools, they likely were imported from the continent and not indigenous.
    *No mention is made in the pdf or your post of the size, skill level, and vocal techniques that he imagines your singers employing for this, again, evocative/emulative work. Encouraging is the awareness of the imaginative realizations of period early music by Ensemble Organum, but does that translate over to the Celtic prototype musical culture of the Caedmon period?I would ask Jeffrey Quick to jump in here, as his musicological expertise is matched by a personal faith journey that incorporated some aspects of early Celtic/Druid rituals.)
    *The desire to sparsely accompany with some tuned bells and perhaps organ pedal point drones against a three voice harmonic construct may be difficult to sustain interest of the ear when the listener must also wade through a literary tradition, that despite even the best of liner notes, is not easily acquired. The work cannot suffer too much esotericism, I would think. The added textures of a diatonic harp and/or a hammer dulcimer could mitigate the minimalist vocal/instrumental orchestration he envisions at this point, and still maintain the Celtic ethos.

    Lastly, I can't imagine employing this piece within the confines of a liturgy such as Good Friday Veneration as outlined thus far. It is a noble goal. But to illustrate this point, I've always thought that Barber's famed ADAGIO should be required for GF, as it is like the Allegri MISERERE, a paramount artistic achievement of passion and the Passion. But there is no place for the instrumental version (organ or strings) within the discipline of that particular liturgy, nor for allowing the Agnus Dei text retrofit. There are so many versions of the Improperia/O Vos Omnes that have yet to be revealed to congregations all over the world. I'm not saying that supplanting those for this commissioned piece could be interpreted as a work of vanity at all, but what is the expected outcome of the work at service formally which is particularly articulated on this day of the Triduum?
    The same could be argued for its use at a Tenebrae, tho' there's more "leeway."

    That's all I got for you from my own compositional POV. Godspeed.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,689
    Besides what has already been commented on, this calls (indeed, fairly screams) for clarification:
    This text is my own compilation drawing from various translations available online.
    Are these public domain sources, or are there permissions to be negotiated?
  • First of my sincerest appreciation for all the comments. I have encouraged my pastor to sign into the forum and offer some clarification. Certainly, to answer melofluent, the criteria is fluid. He mostly desires this ancient text, translated in some form or fashion, set to music. I spent a good deal of time in advance of this project looking to see if I could find it already set. I came up empty.
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 653
    Bridget I'm not young or budding either, but I'd be interested. There are a number of examples of my music here and my contact information in my profile.

    William Copper
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,168
    Bridget, be in touch with me via message. i have some suggestions.
  • Since it certainly wasn't clear from my negative-sounding comment above, Bridget, despite the various issues with this proposal I think -- and while I can't speak for the other members I'm sure most will agree -- that it's absolutely wonderful for your parish to commission a musical work. Huzzah for patronage of the (Catholic) arts!
    Thanked by 2Ben CHGiffen
  • I am forwarding Father's message sent from his phone with all its limitations. (We are in the midst of a snow/ice event here in Georgia, and Father can't get to his computer.) Hopefully, he answers some of the questions posed by this esteemed coterie: " I have been observing the discussion for some time and at the urging of my choir master, I have decided to offer some clarifications and thoughts. First of all, I am grateful for any help on this project. It may never come into reality, but if it does, it will be better because of your contributions. Secondly, I had hoped to stay as anonymous from this project as possible. My poor attempt at verse is an effort to help a composer see a way to give musical structure to Caedmon's stunning poem. I will admit that it is pseudo archaic English, but I had hoped to convey something of the antiquity of the text without trying to ask my choir to sing Beowulf. It is a difficult balance to try to achieve. While I did start with the poem and its translations found online, this text has been restructured and changed sufficiently to be its own reality, even if it may be a poor one. And as the composer might improve upon the text yet again, I am hopeful that whatever gets sung will be its own reality by so many degrees of separation. Still, my desire to be anonymous in the process may also be an attempt to work from, as much as possible, a received text. The reason Bridget Scott included the PDF, which is a rather personal glimpse into my process, was so that a potential composer could follow the logic of this transition and restructure the verse if he or she needed to. I am hoping that St Caedmon will recognize his text, and that the rest of us can benefit from his profound spiritual message. Thirdly, as with regards to the music, I have given a vision not to dictate but to inspire. Much modern music composed for the church is overly produced in a sort of Nashville way. Academics on the other hand can tend to write music that is too strange, too difficult, or that has too many parts, so the University chorale might be able to sing their work, but not a parish choir. If Caedmon's text is to come alive again in song, it needs to be practical for parish choir to sing it. So how does one convey to a composer that we want something that evokes the antiquity of the text for example? And where does one find good composers of contemporary church music? Lastly, our parish choir and cantors are singing the propers at every Mass. We sing the Gloria almost as effortlessly in Latin as we do in English. We also sing the reproaches on Good Friday. We also chant the Passion on good friday. So our little Appalachian parish does not starve for official music. Bridget Scott has helped us to form a very sophisticated congregation with regards to musical expectations. So maybe this new piece of music is redundant and not needed? Nevertheless, I have to say I am impressed with Caedmon's poem, that is essentially lost to this generation. The whole poem, while beautiful, is too long. But this part, isolated and carved up on a stone cross, has an evangelical power to it. Perhaps it will always remain obscure, perhaps not. Anyway, again I thank everyone for their thoughts, and who knows, maybe we will one day hear the vision of Caedmon's song again in a world that could benefit from this message."
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE DROID
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Well, I don't think there's much of a chance of doing this really period. The touchstone would probably be Benjamin Bagby's performances of Beowulf. If I were to write this (not throwing hat into ring just yet, but hypothetically), the chorus parts would be homophonic, with a quartal tendency, in a parlando but jagged style. The ideal would be a capella, but if you want it foolproof, an organ would double or could replace the harmony parts of the chorus (preferably with an adequate Schnarrwerk). I'm not nuts about organ during Lent (esp. Good Friday), but I'd rather have it than other instruments (esp. drum, which during most of Christian history has had pagan implications) I also just can't hear these "backup chorus" parts put in between. As for the opening text, yest it has a few things to fix, but it has a good sense of rhythm and a suitably archaic sound.
  • Bridget, I lack the standing of my colleagues, but I think I'd like to try and take on the project too.
  • I am amazed at the talent pool within this very forum. We've had many offers to take on the project and several suggestions for specific composers to contact. Thanks to everybody who contributed thoughts and critical analysis. Now, how do we begin to choose? (Still trying to get to all the private messages you folks have sent. Thanks for your patience.)
  • For those of you who are interested in the results of our undertaking, you can read about it here: http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/#8843858392056231552
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    Very nice!