for treble choir & women’s choir (SSA), flute, piano, and acoustic guitar; 5.5′ (2015)
text: traditional Scottish and American folk songs
(commissioned by the Madison Youth Choirs)
to be premiered at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival in Aberdeen, Scotland, in summer 2016
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In summer 2014, the Madison Youth Choirs decided to bring seventy-odd boys and young men to Scotland for a featured performance at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival. For that occasion, MYC commissioned me to write “Sound and Fury,” a Shakespeare setting that could be performed by their youngest male choirs (young boys) all the way up to their oldest male choirs (young men with changed voices, in high school) in a way that would highlight the strengths of all those different kinds of boys’ (and men’s) voices.
When MYC decided they were going to bring a large group of girls and young women in 2016, I was so grateful that they turned to me for another commission, and “Across the Water” is the result of that collaboration. Where “Sound and Fury” was a very dark and existential piece of music, I decided (along with Michael Ross, artistic director of the Madison Youth Choirs) to do something more lighthearted this time around, and work with some folk-song material, to highlight the lovely tone and expressiveness of these combined choirs. Because MYC was planning to bring this new piece to Scotland, I immediately jumped at the idea of combining American folk song with Scottish folk song… which is much less unusual than it might sound, given that so much of our American folk tradition grows out of old British & Scottish folk traditions. Eventually, I settled on combining the gorgeous song “The Water Is Wide” (which is quite popular in both Scottish and American folk traditions) with a highly rhythmic and exciting Scottish “walking song” entitled “Cò Nì Mire Rium?” (in Scots Gaelic).
“Across the Water” takes those two folk songs, in different languages and different musical worlds, and lets them play together and become hopelessly entwined. “The Water is Wide” is all about heartbreak, where “Cò Nì Mire Rium?” is about finding new love; those two conflicting ideas play out against each other over the course of the piece, searching for common ground, both textually and musically. When it all adds up together, the composite of those songs (and my own original material) straddles the lines between folk music and “classical” music, between lyricism and dance rhythms, between despair and lighthearted joy… and, of course, straddles the oceanic divide between the two countries from which it takes inspiration.