Tuesday, 7 February 2012

On never wanting to see another chromatic passing note again, or at least until tomorrow.

I’ve been setting passages for the chorus in the last few days. The chorus features in the prologue and epilogue of the opera and is made up of local singers from Bridlington. As the chorus are of mixed standard it was important to write something that was singable and easy to put together but that also didn’t seem out of place in the opera.

At one point the chorus sing Amy, Wonderful Amy”: a song by Jack Hylton that became very famous after Amy’s trip to Australia. Both Adam and I wanted to reference the song but not just whack in a carbon copy of it: we wanted an off-kilter version if you like. But when I actually came to write this bit I got really stuck, as any addition of “off-kilter-ness” would usually be created by the inclusion of strange intervals (augmenting a perfect 4th to an augmented 4th in the melody etc, making it sound a bit strange whilst still retaining the melodic shape for instance) or strange rhythms (a cheeky 7/8 bar nestling in between the 4/4 bars to just make you wonder what just happened). But it’s very hard to sing a tritone or a melody in 7/8, often even for professional singers, and I didn’t want the chorus to despise me, so this wasn’t really an option. I solved the problem by retaining the exact melody for the choir, but shifting it up and down so that at some points they sing in C major, at others in D major, and in many other keys. The accompaniment links the phrases in different keys and I was careful to try and suggest the new key centre very strongly in the preceding minim of each new phrase so the new key would be firmly planted in the chorus’s ear. I hit upon the idea of writing an extremely chromatic accompaniment (in the first phrase I’ve harmonised it with a bassline that descends step by step over almost an octave, as I’ll put this on bass with a slight glissando between each note, which will hopefully be reminiscent of the drone of aeroplane engines....)

Hopefully what results is a recognisable song that just occasionally takes you by surprise, or takes a corner you don’t expect, but you can’t quite put your fingers on what exactly happened. The opening scene is set in the 1930’s, and I quite like the idea of a song drifting over to us in 2012, occasionally getting distorted by the wind and/or the passage of time. There’s also possibly a suggestion that what will follow in the opera won’t necessarily always present the perfect Amy, dressed for pioneering aviation as she dressed for dinner at the Ritz, etc. etc. I hope. Anyway, this all added up to a very satisfying but very tiring day of creating layers of chromatic melodies and harmonic progressions. I was glad to move on to something else by the next day!

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