A Northumbrian Anthem for organ (2020)


The updated version for organ is now available to hear on Soundcloud

It is still only the computer demo, I’m afraid, but it is a start. I did hear passages of the original version tried out on the organ of Nossa Senhora de Fátima in Sumaré, São Paulo, nearly two years ago. The purpose then was to try out the various organ stops with a professional organist. The sound was impressive. I do look forward to hearing the piece played one day.

A Northumbrian Anthem, for brass band


You may think it underwhelming that all I seem to manage these days is short tuneful pieces and folk arrangements, but there are good reasons for it, most of them not suitable for a blog of this kind.

Here is a version for brass band of my own A Northumbrian Anthem of 2018. I am a novice on this medium, and the mind is still boggling after so much transposition, but after so many years in the Northeast of England it would be something of an omission not to have written at least one short piece. There have been other adjustments too, which may now find their way back into the organ version.

Best listen on proper speakers or headphones.



Updated arrangement

And, of course - a little update on a little arrangement. 




Ve'ulai: reconstructed arrangement

He aquí mi arreglo reconstruido de Ve'ulai, la canción de Yehuda Sharet sobre el célebre poema de Rachel. 

Grabación casera de una ejecución del Coro Juvenil de la Orquesta de Gran Canaria y miembros de la Orquesta de Gran Canaria, dirigidos por Marcela Garrón Velarde. 

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Here is my reconstructed arrangement of Ve'ulai by Rachel and Yehuda Sharet. 

Homemade recording of a live performance by Coro Juvenil de la Orquesta de Gran Canaria and members of the Orquesta de Gran Canaria, conducted by Marcela Garrón Velarde. 

Ve'ulai


VE'ULAI
Imagine if one could understand Hebrew and if, in addition to the beauty of this voice, of this song and of this arrangement, one could at the same time take in the searing nostalgia of the poem?
That would be simply too much – at least for me. Just as well I can't. 
I am, however, reconstructing my own arrangement of Ve’ulai. It is for eight vocal parts and string quartet. It was written for Coral Nova in 1983, sung beautifully by them and then lost. Is losing scores something of a habit, you might ask? I suspect the answer would interest only music librarians. Or, perhaps an even more apt question, why bother to rewrite a lost arrangement?
I hope to find a way to explain the imperative in due course.
Poem by Rachel
Song by Yehuda Sharet
Sung by Esther Ofarin
Arranged by?
Accompanied by?
(Tut tut, The Orchard Enterprise - but thank you for posting it in the first place.)


_________
VE'ULAI
¿Se imaginan poder entender hebreo y, encima de la belleza de esta voz, de esta canción y de este arreglo, poder absorber al mismo tiempo la nostalgia calcinante del poema?
Eso sería simplemente demasiado – por lo menos para mí; menos mal que no sé hebreo.
Estoy, sin embargo, reconstruyendo mi propio arreglo de Ve’ulai. Es para ocho partes vocales y cuarteto de cuerda. Lo escribí en 1983 para Coral Nova, quienes lo cantaron estupendamente; luego la partitura se perdió. ¿Es un hábito mío perder partituras, preguntarán? La respuesta interesaría sólo a bibliotecarios musicales. O, una pregunta aun más idónea, ¿para qué tomarse la molestia de reescribir un arreglo perdido?
Espero saber cómo explicar el imperativo en su momento.
Poema de Rachel
Canción de Yehuda Sharet
Cantada por Esther Ofarin
¿Arreglo de?
¿Acompañamiento de?
(No está bien, The Orchard Enterprise - pero gracias por compartir.)

Yungueñita

Yungueñita, on the other hand, is a straight arrangement. "Straight" in the sense of not having as its primary objective to establish a dialogue between two musical languages, as is the case with the Beethovenianas bolivianas. In a wider sense, however, every arrangement is a dialogue between the arranger, his time and his cultural context, and the composer of the original - whether known or anonymous - his time and his context. 

My own understanding of arranging was transformed radically when I discovered the work of Percy Grainger. I did so somewhat belatedly. About twenty years ago (I write this in 2019) my friend, the magnificent all-round musician Alan Fearon, played me a recording of Shallow Brown. We were in his sitting room in Jesmond Vale, overlooking the Dene, and I remember being struck by the sea-like texture provided by the guitar tremolos and by the epic, affirmative responses from the male choir. I knew too little about the context of the sea shanty and the context of Grainger to give it much more thought than that.

About a decade later, my companion in life experienced something of a Grainger epiphany. Of course she knew her Grainger already, but something must have happened to bring it back to her attention. I remember her exhilaration when she came back to the house having listened to Shepherd’s Hey in her car. She played it again for me and I was thrilled; it was the orchestral version, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. That launched a period of listening, reading and talking Percy Grainger. Before long my composition students had to engage with some Grainger too. Said companion went on to curate a very successful Prom concert showing the connection between Grainger and specific tunes from the English repertoire.

Having immersed yourself in Grainger, arranging could never again be the workaday task you once did semi-reluctantly, usually on request and as a compromise between your keenness to have work performed and the performer’s half-hearted commitment to engage with your work – keen enough to play something yours, but not so keen as to play one of your "proper" pieces.  

Grainger elevated for me the task of arranging a folk tune to a level of the highest order of creative challenge. Any arrangement to be undertaken from then on would have to engage not only with the melodic and rhythmic contents, but with the performance practice of the tune’s time and place, and with its cultural context. And it would have to do so from a position of respect, affection and as much knowledge as possible. Daunting.

I met these challenges headlong in the next arrangements I wrote after that. The first was Collier’s Rant which began for six choirs and then had to be shrunk for four. A quick scan through this blog reveals I did not write about it at the time; that has to be remedied and I should do it soon.

The next was not one, but a series of arrangements for string orchestra commissioned by Bolivia Clásica, which I refer to as Arreglos bolivianos. Two of them, Collita and Viva mi patria, are being performed and reproduced with touching frequency in Bolivia, for example by the television channel ATB during a ten-day period leading up to the 194th Independence Day this year. I may come back to that project in this blog if I have time.


Today’s post is about Yungueñita, a taquirari – another taquirari, if you remember that the piece in the last post, Beethovenianas bolivianas No. 1, is also one. Taquirari is probably the first music I knew, or at least the first music I remember hearing back in my childhood in Montero. My current obsession with the genre may have something of a closing of a loop.  

This arrangement, which I finished a few days ago, is for Trío Apolo, Bolivian friends, based in my native town. They are the ones who commissioned my Trio back in 2004. They are currently embarked on an ambitious programme of outreach work and, as part of that, they have asked me to write a number of arrangements. I understand that they were motivated to approach me about this after hearing Arreglos bolivianos when Bolivia Clásica did their patriotic project with Jaime Laredo in 2014.

It was perhaps wayward of me to give them Beethovenianas bolivianas No. 1 as my first instalment, since, as I hope to have explained in the last post, that is not an arrangement of any known folk tune. Yungueñita is closer to the brief.

Yungueñita closes a loop in more than one sense – not only by virtue of being a taquirari. This arrangement is, in fact, informed by another arrangement, one I wrote around 1978 for Orquesta de Cámara Municipal. I was a member of it at the time, leading the viola section, and I was very much in the position I alluded to above, desperate to have my work performed but finding that the management, although well disposed, was not willing to risk a contemporary work. They suggested a folk arrangement instead, and I gave them Yungueñita.

The title means "female from Yungas". Strictly speaking that would be yungueña, but there is a very Bolivian diminutive ending which makes the word more personal,  more affectionate. Yungas is a semi-tropical region near La Paz, and this song is something of a classic of La Paz folk music. Taquirari, quintessential to the eastern lowlands, is by no means a La Paz genre – even though, strangely, another La Paz classic which I have also arranged, Collita, is a taquirari too. Collita’s lyrics make it clear that the song is a homage to a woman of La Paz by a man from the east of the country. There is no such explanation for Yungueñita. All the lyrics do is reproach her for a change in her loyalties, mentioning in passing that the man singing is black. 

I was blissfully ignorant of Yungueñita's authorship in 1978 and, to my shame, the first few performances had the composer’s credit as Anonymous in the programme. It was after one of the concerts of Orquesta de Cámara Municipal that the manager, Juan Antonio Maldonado, came to tell me that a composer had materialised, that his name was Víctor Hugo Serrano and that he was indignant that he was not being credited – but that he was delighted with the arrangement. It was all settled in a friendly manner.

I do not have access to the score of the 1978 arrangement, but, although forty-one years have elapsed, we played it so often around that time that I remember it reasonably well. The new arrangement for Trío Apolo retrieves the melody of the introduction (not part of Serrano’s tune) and a couple of countermelodies. The rest is new.

Something that was distinctly lacking in the older arrangement was any serious attempt to engage with the rhythmic subtleties of taquirari. I did some detailed exploration on this for Collita and for Pensando en ti (both are in Arreglos bolivianos of 2014). I take the search one step further in Beethovenianas bolivianas No. 1 and, I think, another step in Yungueñita.

Computer simulation!


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Beethovenianas bolivianas, No. 1


At this bizarre conjuncture maybe I should be saying, as Samuel Beckett said to Edna O’Brien when she asked if he was writing anything: “and what use would it be, anyhow?” What use, indeed, if he was on his deathbed and if any lines he might pen at that point could be his last, going nowhere, leading to the completion of no meaningful work?

In my case, I am composing, but not in any sense I might have been at any time before.

The circumstances of the last year have precluded a proper immersion in creative work. I have remained productive, first of all in order to fulfil existing commitments, such as LoA (Sage Gateshead, September 2018) and A Northumbrian Anthem (August 2018). Composing them was difficult, not least in a logistical sense, with no music keyboard or even of an alphanumeric keypad, which until then had seemed essential for music notation input. But the effort also helped to sustain me when things were hard, and to focus on something positive.

After that, other pressing challenges - not of a musical kind - absorbed my energies. But it was not possible to defer composing for very long. Writing music was and is essential to who I am, and to abandon it for any length of time would endanger my sense of self.

After some struggle, I found a compromise: I could go on composing by writing shorter, less demanding pieces in the crevices of time and strength the situation allowed. And, since we don’t know how long I will be in a position to continue to write music, thoughts have to turn to debts, that is, pieces I had been feeling for some time that there was a moral imperative to write. That was the case of the choral piece A Don Franklin (October 2018), a homage to Franklin Anaya Arze which is intended to rectify an imbalance left by the oft-performed (too oft, I wonder?) Himno al Instituto Laredo (1979).

There are also what could be termed aesthetic debts to repay. I cannot forget the mission statement I came up with in a late-night conversation with my eldest sister, Beba, back in 1970 or 1971. I was twelve or thirteen then, and was in the process of discovering the classical repertoire after a few years spent playing folk and traditional music. I told my sister that my ambition was to absorb the technique of the classical masters to put it at the service of a new folk music. I said words to the effect that my music would have to be a conversation between the two traditions. Mind you, I had not heard much twentieth-century music at that point.


Naïve and juvenile perhaps, but that manifesto was sincere, and in some important ways I have adhered to it. There is no denying that my immersion in classical music became total for many years – as it had to be, given how much there was to learn. But it is equally undeniable that the “classical” music I wrote throughout the 1970s in Bolivia (say, Rapsodia, or Misa de Corpus Christi) was, recognisably, also folk music. In the following decades I wrote music which, to British and USA audiences, might sound “very Bolivian” (or, for those who know less, “very Latin”), whereas for Bolivian audiences it would sound “very classical” (or, for those who know less, “very contemporary”). Those are typical reactions from audiences. Each constituency would be aware of the otherness. This could mean that, as in today’s BBC bias argument (“if all sides are unhappy they must be getting it right”), I have been hitting the right spot. Or it could mean that, whatever the demographic of my audience, they find my music alien.

Do we want to be defined in terms of our otherness? I am sure I am not the first composer to ask this question. Of course, the absolute majority of creative artists would like to be perceived as original. But do we want to be perceived as other? As alien, even? What would the opposite of that be? What would it be like to be recognised as familiar, kindred, relevant, congenial? How would that music sound? Unappealing thought, especially if we think of the traits such music would need to have to sound familiar, kindred, relevant and congenial to listeners  present or future  of today’s contemporary music.

The thought is more appealing to me if I imagine a Bolivian listener – Latin American, even, and not necessarily one from the thinly-populated spheres of contemporary music audiences – recognising what I write as familiar, kindred, relevant or congenial. What would that music have to sound like? Have my decades of working immersion in classical music first, and then in contemporary classical music, distanced me beyond recall from that listener? To the first of these two questions I have been addressing my thoughts for quite some time. To the second, I do not have to think to answer: the answer is no.

I am not, I cannot be too far removed from a Bolivian, or Latin American, who is sufficiently interested in music to listen to something I have written. I would go further: I cannot be too far removed from any listener from any origin who happens to cross paths with my work. Not if by “being far removed” we mean that my music leaves them behind by virtue of being too rarefied. The reverse is more likely to be the case, and I am sure it has happened already. In the lofty echelons of post-serial music practice and thinking, I am pretty sure my music must have been dismissed many times as “post-tonal” or “emotive” or other such dirty words from the avant-garde lexicon – not that I have heard them; I would be very unlikely to, since such circles are oh so universally polite. These high spheres are prone to exclusivism, and my heart does not ache unduly at being excluded from them, other than to regret the denial of access to some superb performers and performance opportunities. It must be said, however, that I suspect that the reasons for the exclusion are not musical, or not always.

If those stratospheric practitioners and thinkers have shown mistrust towards my serious works – the quartets, the orchestral pieces, Approaching Melmoth – perhaps I ought to shudder at what they would say about my efforts of the last year. But I am past shuddering. I am too busy facing real dangers in other parts of my life. Let the lofties sniff, let them sneeze, let them choke if they have to. I have a job to do, and not many months to do it.

To what extent national identity can be part of a recipe for originality is debatable. I have no intention to use mine in that way, and am under no illusion that being Bolivian will save me from oblivion. All I know is that I started off as a folkie; a premature one, maybe, but an earnest one; I was serious about what I did back in 1969 and 1970. Are you too young to be serious about what you do at that age? Well, I wasn’t (too young), and I was (serious about what I did).

I started off as a folkie, I was saying, and then life put other exciting music in my way. I loved this even more, but I also saw the need for consistency, for loyalty. So that is what I came up with – the formula I confided to my sister. To save you scrolling up, it was: “my music [will] have to be a conversation between the two traditions [folk and classical].

I had hoped to have plenty of time to consider this challenge in my maturity, but I may be being overtaken by events. In an implicit sense all my work has been that: a dialogue of two traditions – at least two. But a conversation in an explicit sense in which two characters are put centre-stage and are seen to converse, distinctly enough for any listener to distinguish between them, including that hypothetical listener who is not used to contemporary music or even to classical music. Have I done that before? I hadn’t, but I have now. This is the first attempt. Ideally it will be the first of a series. Let us see.

The title should be self-explanatory as to who the characters in the conversation are. The title is also an affectionate homage to Heitor Villa-Lobos, who did something comparable. He did it more subtly – but hey, mine is only the first of a series. Or so I hope.


For those unfamiliar with the genre, the structure and rhythm correspond to taquirari, the emblematic genre from the eastern lowlands where I grew up. Is this a pastiche? Emphatically not. This is my mother tongue. 


Until Trío Apolo of Cochabamba have the chance to record it, all we have is the dreaded computer simulation. 

 
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