freed from words
1. Magic Strings (1992) 5:21
The Piedmont Children’s Choir
Rachel Wiley, Lauren Schekman, Joanna Criddle, Katy Gentry, Melissa Wong, soloists
Sue Bohlin, piano
2. Haiku Settings (1996) - First Set 4:41
3. Haiku Settings (1996) - Second Set 3:56
4. Haiku Settings (1996) - Third Set 7:13
The San Francisco Chamber Singers | Sandra Coria, soprano solo
5. Freed From Words (1995) 9:02
The San Francisco Chamber Singers | Lynn Tousey, soprano solo, Mike Peterson, tenor solo
6. The Moon-Welcome (1999) 6:20
Ancora | Jessica Ashman, soprano solo, Nora Wilcox, alto solo, Katherine Breeden, whistling solo
7. Wishes Night (1999) 5:44
The San Francisco Chamber Singers | Ralph Nieder-Westermann, tenor solo
8. The Oh of Moon and Piano (2000) 9:34
The Piedmont Children’s Choir | soloists (sung): Katherine Breeden, Ella Bacon, Kelsey, Laverne, Marion Evans, Emily Radcliff | soloists (whistling): Sydney Howe, Katherine Chang
Sue Bohlin, piano
Total Time: 51:37
A chorus is an ensemble with a long history. One could argue that the act of people singing together was the first instance of communal music-making.
It is also a living sound in the most literal sense, and the sound of many
voices together communicates in a way that a single voice cannot. The music on this disc is one view of choral sound: not merely a vehicle for words, but an attempt to get at the meaning behind the words, an approach to sculpting music out of the sound
of a chorus, and a direct presentation of musical elements - the tension, release,
repetition patterns and lines that form the sentences and paragraphs of music.
The pieces on this recording combine sung text and vocal sounds in different ways. Sometimes the text is clearly presented in a straightforward manner. Other times,
the sound is the thing, with the intelligibility of words and their meaning taking a
backseat to the music. Most of the pieces freely mix both approaches. There is one exception: Freed From Words is made entirely from phonemes; it contains no text.
What links all the pieces, indeed, all of my choral music, is the joy of the choral sound, and the exploration of that sound as music.
1. Magic Strings includes all sorts of sounds and gestures appropriate to a “shamaness’ exorcism”: whistles and whispers from the chorus, plucked strings and other extended techniques from the piano. The journey of the music follows the
path of the poem, reflecting its images in sound.
A Piece for Magic Strings
(A shamaness exorcizes baleful creatures)
On the western hills the sun sets, the eastern hills darken,
Horses blown by the whirlwind tread the clouds.
From colored lute and plain pipes, crowd faint notes:
Her flowered skirt rustles as she steps in the autumn dust.
When the wind brushes the cassia leaves and a cassia seed drops
The blue raccoon weeps blood and the cold fix dies.
Dragons painted on the ancient wall with tails of inlaid gold
The God of Rain rides into the autumn pool;
And the owl a hundred years old, which changed to a goblin of the trees,
Hears the sound of laughter as green flames start up inside its nest.
Li Ho (791 - 817)
translation by A. C. Graham
2- 4. The Haiku used in Haiku Settings cover a broad range, from the traditional 3-line, 17 syllable single moment / image poem, to the “heightened” individual words of Marlene Mountain. All of the texts are minimal, however, both in their use of few words to achieve their effect, and in their presentation: text surrounded by a lot of blank space on the page. I have tried to carry over these elements in the music: melodic phrases tend to be brief, musical material is set off by silence, and texts of the Haiku emerge from purely vocal sounds. A key example of the latter is the way each movement begins: sustained vowel sounds (“o”, “a”, etc.) alternate with silence, and the text (“in the woods / in her old voice”) gradually emerges. Another element is the use of Haiku patterns in the music, specifically the 5 - 7 - 5 pattern (the syllabic division of the traditional 3-line Haiku), and the use of 17 as a “unit”. This element is like the scaffolding for a building - not visible, but a necessary part all the same.
Haiku Settings - First Set
in in her old voice
the the mountains
– Marlene Mountain
release the summer clouds
one by one by one
– John Wills
sheet lightning: the puppet
the face near the top leaning from his booth
of the ferris wheel blinks at the rain
outside the pub deserted wharf
the sailor the mime bows
faces the wind to the moon
– Chuck Brickley
Haiku Settings - Second Set
in in her old voice
the the mountains
k k k k k krik ´ it
c c c c c c c
o o o o o o o
c c c c c c c O
a a a a a O
e e e c o y O t e
h o o t
sn wfl k s
– Marlene Mountain
Haiku Settings - Third Set
in in her old voice
the the mountains
– Marlene Mountain
Now the leaves are still–
and only the mockingbird
lets the moonlight through!
In the garden pool,
dark and still, a stepping–stone
releases the moon
– O. Mabson Southard
The names of the dead Quietly dozing
sinking deeper and deeper under a clock without hands:
into the red leaves the museum keeper
A night train passes: Winter burial:
pictures of the dead are trembling a stone angel points his hand
on the mantelpiece at the empty sky
– Eric Amann
5. As previously noted, Freed From Words is without text. Instead, the chorus is treated more like a very specialized “orchestra”, which is used to produce music full of driving rhythmic energy. One of the clearest antecedents to this approach is the scat singing used in jazz. In one way, the piece creates its own language. The music is organized in a rondo form (ABACABA). That is, the music of the first section (“A”) comes back several times throughout the piece; the music of the second section (“B”) appears once near the beginning and once near the end, and so on. The strict form provides an underlying framework, which I felt was needed to properly ground the piece. Hanging on that form is a kaleidoscope of texture, mood and color in both sung and spoken sounds.
6. The Moon-Welcome is based on an old Gaelic text, an “invocation” to the moon. Although the complete poem is heard in the course of the piece, it is surrounded throughout by individual sounds derived from the phonemes of the text. After an introduction of spoken, whispered and hummed sounds, solo voices introduce the words. After the text unfolds, coming to rest on a unison hummed note, the music explodes into a non-coordinated wheel of sound: individuals, small groups and
large groups, all welcoming the moon.
Welcome to the Moon
Welcome, precious stone of the night
Delight of the skies, precious stone of the night
Mother of stars, precious stone of the night
Excellency of stars, precious stone of the night
– Anonymous (Gaelic)
Both Wishes Night and The Oh of Moon and Piano use texts by San Francisco poet Denise Newman. Both pieces are unusual in that the texts were written specifically
to be set to music. Although the texts preceded the music, Denise and I met several times to discuss the nature of each piece. Thus, these pieces are truly collaborations.
7. Wishes Night went through several stages before emerging in its final form. However, the final stanza was present from the first. Part of this stanza’s text (flowing by open palms / the song that sings one sings on) forms a “refrain” that appears several times in the piece. There is a musical idea that returns several times as well: a held note two voice parts (for instance, alto and tenor) while a separate voice part sings the text. Most of the text is treated in a linear fashion, although there is some spinning out of words (“cold” and “change”) as well as some vocal sounds related to the text.
8. The Oh of Moon and Piano was composed as part of the American Composers Forum / National Endowment for the Arts’ Continental Harmony project for the
millennial year. This project featured performing organizations and composers from throughout the U. S. – this piece was one of several for California. One of the stipulations for this piece was that it include a prominent piano part. Because of that, the piano actually ended up in the poem, along with the moon. The visual image of the moon and a piano dancing together is an arresting one, to be sure.
Again, the music follows the linear progression of the text, although the opening
stanzas reappear in the swirl of the final dance. As with Magic Strings, extended
piano techniques and vocal sounds reflect and support the text and its images.
The lumps and chunks and crumbs of them / the pith and mass, unsure they come the day undone to thaw the frost of day the fire hole a flush of heat a golden glow / the rams and boars and paramours /the peeping Toms and full plum sons all mill about to thaw themselves at night
bubble, trouble, trap of the hold tensely seeking relief of the cold
A break, the seam undone, they crave, grazing the surface for, a heat to hold against the numb and loneliness / a whisper and parts divide, swigging the eyes drink in a hope of coupling
thick with thirst, not at rest, bubble about to burst
seethe, to seethe against, breathe, breathe with and drink again / the giving in, to hope, to heed the thaw and ache / to urge and blend, bodies and earth body / the whole sky of desire break into or broken against / smashed and shapes change
The gurgle and gaggle and purl of the river / softly flowing by open palms / the song that sings one sings on
– Denise Newman
jingle me song
the urge is great
as the night is long
roll me along
the wish is made
on Piano’s song
Solo Moon glowing
in deeps of silence
to Piano’s song
dumb moan in moon’s guts
Oh, To belt it out
To blast the stars with my aria!
locked in the music room
looks out longing
at mammoth Moon
no dark tones that sadden him
Oh, To roll across the universe
with an awesome hush!
Swap Moon for Piano,
Piano for Moon
Let piano play tunes that fill the sky
let the luminous globe of Moon
roll around palace rooms
Their loving looks toward dawn
Piano bows to Moon and they dance
in springtime’s secret night garden
Now who can tell
the music from its muse?
– Denise Newman
The San Francisco Chamber Singers
(Freed From Words)
Naomi Braun, Kathryn Cale, Lauren Carley, Dale Engle, Timothy Gibler, Sigrid A. Jarrett, Pamela Langston-Cox, Christine Naliwski, Anthony Pasqua, Michael Petersen, Bettina Pohle, Nasrin Salak, Mark Shattuck, Mary P. Storandt, Lynn Tousey, Aurelio Viscarra
(Wishes Night and Haiku Settings)
Ben Barr‡, Dana Leigh Belson, Sylvia Bloom†, Naomi Braun, Tom Büsse‡, Stacy Cohen‡, Sandra Coria‡, Sonia Garieff†, E. E. “Chip” Grant IV, Anne Hege†, Alison Huang,
Robert Lloyd Huber, Paul Ingraham, Sigrid A. Jarrett†, Amy McKenzie‡, Ralph Nieder-Westermann, Laura Stanfield Prichard‡, Michael Prichard‡, Fay Putnam, Philip Saunders, Jennifer Shyu, Mark Sumnner, Piet Van Allen
† Wishes Night only ‡ Haiku Settings only
The Piedmont Choir Ensemble
Michael Adler, Lael Ajay, Jessica Ashman, Laurel Barkan, Meaghan Beattie, Katherine Breeden, Daniel Brett, Sydney Busch, Rosalynn Chongchaikit, Ilan Cohen, Dana Creek, Joanna Criddle, Lisa D’Annunzio, Daniel Davis, Kelly Dwyer, Lauren Eigenbrode, Laura Evans, Julia M. Fabrizio, Shauna Fallihee, Stephen Fung, Katry Gentry, Lucia Graves, Andrew Hersch, Kathleen Hertel, Ryan Houston, Cort Kenney, Queenie Kwan, Brian Larson, Abigail Lau, Erin Lloyd, Claire Michaels, Christina Newhall, Mark Pitcairn, Leah Pollack, Ciara Sanker, Lauren Schekman, Darcy Shiber-Knowles, Aaron Shiber-Knowles, Ariel Shultz, David Song, Rebecca Sullivan, Nora Wilcox, Meredith Williams, Melissa Wong, Rachael Wylie
Jessica Ashman, Katherine Breeden, Dana Creek, Joanna Criddle, Lisa D’Annunzio, Lauren Eigenbrode, Julia Fabrizio, Katy Gentry, Lucia Graves, Claire Michaels, Christina Newhall, Ciara Sanker, Ariel Shultz, Nora Wilcox, Meredith Williams, Melissa Wong
The Piedmont Choir Ensemble
(The Oh of Moon and Piano)
Caitlin Anderson, Alice Bacon, Ella Bacon, Katie Birnbaum, Madeleine Blumgart, Alexandra Brennan, Monika Brien, Katherine Chang, Keith Doelling, Caitlin Dolan, Michelle Eng-Surowiec, Marion Evans, Tanya Glaser, Johanna Glaser, Marjorie Gomez, Nathaniel Goodby, Stephanie Ham, Stephanie Harley, Stephanie Joy Hartono, Alixandra Howard, Brendan Howe, Sydney Howe, Carolyn Jaeger, Alice Jones, Wm. Stephan Kemper, Max Kluger-Bell, Seth Lavender, Kelsey Laverne, Kailyn McCord, Megan C. McLetchie, Mayda Nathan, Sydney Pritchett, Emily Ratcliffe, Andrew Ratcliffe, Anna Riker, Nicholas Riker, Danielle Shultz, Jessica Stanley, Blythe Tai, Amanda Turman, Fiona Wainwright, Lindsay Walsh, Bethany Woolman, Yaluen Yu, Samia Zaidi
The San Francisco Chamber Singers is a professional chamber choir esteemed for its commitment to and excellence in performing works by contemporary composers,
particularly that of American composers. The group is a multiple recipient of ASCAP’s award for “Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music,” and has toured throughout the U.S. and overseas. For many years, the group was Choir in Residence
of the Newport Music Festival in Rhode Island. The Chamber Singers’ performances have been broadcast in the Bay Area on KQED, KKHI, KDFC, and KUSF; nationally
on Monitor Radio, Voice of America, and National Public Radio; and internationally
on American Armed Forces Radio and Swiss International Radio.
SFCS has collaborated with many distinguished theatrical and musical organizations, both on stage and in recording. Partners have included Earplay, the SF Contemporary Music Players, the Berkeley Symphony, the Oakland Symphony, San Francisco Sinfonietta, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Humanities West, and others.
The Chamber Singers’ many collaborations with George Coates Performance Works
in avant garde multi-media performance art works include the premiere productions
of 20/20 Blake in São Paulo, Brazil and San Francisco.
Since its founding in 1982, the Piedmont Choirs has grown in stature and achievement. Recognized for its interpretation of new music, the Choirs have earned First Place in international competition in the US, Poland, Germany and Canada. Two of the performing level choirs appear on this recording: Ensemble, with children ages 9-14, and Ancora, a young women’s treble choir. Piedmont Choirs was selected from among more than 1,000 applicants to participate in the Continental Harmony project, an Associate Partner of the White House Millennium Council funded by American Composer’s Forum, the NEA, and the Hewlett Foundation. The world premiere of the resulting composition, The Oh of Moon and Piano, was presented in November 2000. In July, 2000, Ensemble was awarded three gold medals, including First Place in Contemporary Competition, in the Choral Olympics in Linz, Austria. Both Ensemble and Ancora have been featured choirs at conventions of the American Choral Director’s Association.
Robert Geary is Artistic Director of Piedmont Choirs and The San Francisco Chamber Singers. He studied Music Theory and Composition at the University of New Hampshire, and Choral Conducting at California State University, Fullerton, with Howard Swan.
He is also Artistic Director for the San Francisco Choral Society. He has served on the Review Panel for the California Arts Council, and as an international juror. With a
special interest in contemporary music, Bob has inspired commissions and programmed premieres of new works for his choirs, and his commitment to new music has resulted
in awards for conducting and interpretation in Germany and Poland. Bob has prepared choirs for some of the world’s leading conductors, including Robert Shaw, Krzysztof Penderecki, Kent Nagano, Michael Morgan, Herbert Blomstedt, Michael Tilson Thomas, Kurt Herbert Adler, and Helmuth Rilling.
Sue Bohlin is Associate Music Director and Principal Accompanist for the Piedmont Choirs. She was formerly Music Director for George Coates Performance Works theatre in San Francisco and has also served as professor of oboe at the Conservatorio Nacional de Mexico. Her Bachelor of Music Performance is from the Conservatory of Music at University of the Pacific.
Mark Winges was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and currently resides in San Francisco, California, where he is composer-in-residence for the San Francisco Chamber Singers. He is a graduate of the College-Conservatory of Music - University of Cincinnati,
San Francisco State University, and has studied at the Musikhögskolan in Stockholm, Sweden. His principal teachers have been Ellsworth Milburn, Henry Onderdonk, and Arne Mellnäs. He is the recipient of the UNESP Organ Competition Prize, the
Dumler Award, a Barlow Competition prize, and has received grants from Meet the Composer, the California Arts Council, the American Music Center. He is also a MacDowell Colony Fellow.
His works have been performed by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Syzygy at
Rice University, The San Francisco Chamber Singers, Voci Women’s Chorus, Earplay,
the Maelström Percussion Ensemble, the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, the Rohnert Park, Berkeley and Marin Symphonies, the Piteå Symphony (Sweden), Carmina Slovenica (Slovenia), Coro de Niños Cantores de Cordoba (Argentina), St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir (Seattle), Canzonetta Berlin (Germany) and Grupp Kontrast (Sweden). He has also written several arrangements of early American shape-note tunes.
All texts reproduced by permission of the author / owner. Recording locations:
St. Steven’s, Belevedere; First Unitarian, Kensington; Stewart Chapel, San Anselmo; Corpus Christi Church, Oakland. Engineer: Don Ososke, Publisher: Alliance Music Publications, P O Box 131977, Houston, Texas 77219. Please visit our websites: www.sfchambersingers.org and www.piedmontchoirs.org. Innova recordings:
www.innovarecordings.com. innova.mu Label Director: Philip Blackburn. Innova is
supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Cover image and package design by Jeff Welch at blue sky studio.
Mark Winges composes with Rotring pens and inks.