One of the most significant ideas I left my week with Alice Parker was placing text front-and-center. Both as a composer and as a conductor, Alice doesn’t address the notes until she (or her choir) has internalized the words.
With my new commission from Michael McGlynn, I was afforded a unique opportunity to put this into practice. I literally had the text but no music.
I put the poem into my students’ hands and asked them memorize it before they could have the music. Even after we had the finished piece, I did not share it until I heard them recite the poetry. Now, they didn’t all have it memorized, but they did all spend time with it.
In addition to ensuring they were thinking about the words as words rather than just as syllables attached to notes, It meant I could ask the question, “As you learn the poem, can you imagine what the music might sound like?”
When you approach a new choral setting of a poem, how much more do you understand about the music if you really sit with the poetry first?