Vocal Music

  • "Out" – for mixed chorus

  • "Sanctus" – for mixed chorus

  • "Never Know Your Love" and "You'll be in my Heart" – music for barbershop quartet 

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Out, for mixed Chorus

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"Out" (2020) is a piece for mixed chorus, and one of the first vocal works I'd written for some time. I wrote the poetry as well, had written it perhaps a year before in a coffee shop in Iowa City. It was my first semester working on my Ph.D., I was feeling... deeply overwhelmed. The act of writing the poetry was one of both personal catharsis, and one of prayer– a request for intervention.

 

The music was written in late 2020. I'd kept the poem hoping I'd find some space to put it to music at some point. I found an opportunity that fall semester: a final project for a special topics theory course focusing on developments on Neo-Schoenbergian theory. I took it as an opportunity to challenge both the harmonic as well as the formal procedures I've used in my vocal music. This was the result.

I was honored to present this piece at the Middle East South Asia conference (an athletic, academic, and arts conference hosted by six international school in the Middle East and India) on behalf of the GEMS Dubai American Academy in 2021.

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Out was the final project for a class I took at UIowa, on Neo-Schoenbergian Analysis. Schoenberg's analytical practices often borrowed from the study of spoken language, and highlighted the sensations of "rest" and "unrest" as they were created through motive, phrase, and form. 

The tenor's opening phrase is built from motive A. The brackets indicate the different instances of this motive, but it should be noted that the first two instances would be parsed together an a Schoenbergian analysis as a formal figure called a gestalt. The third and final bracket is also its own, distinct gestalt. These gestalten can be understood as components of complete musical phrases, as clauses of a complete sentence if you will. We can also label these gestalten as we would the clauses of a sentence: the first gestalt functions as a subject, while the second functions as a predicate. Together they make a complete phrase, or a sätz. 

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For Schoenberg, sensations of "rest" and "unrest" were often often affected through melodic and harmonic processes– frustrations of centricity or obfuscations of melodic integrity. I tried to employ similar processes in Out.

Consider again the first phrase. In the first of the two images above, the brackets above the staves indicate developments of harmonic quality. This progression of diatonic, through whole-tone, through chromatic is found throughout the piece (though it may not always be immediately recognizable by ear). Similarly, the rhythmic and metric materials modulate through varying time signatures to add to the effect: stability moving through instability, then back toward stability.

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In the piece's climax, these processes (the harmonic and rhythmic) move in diverging directions. As the sopranos and basses respond (as above) to the preceding alto/tenor duet, 4/4 begins to solidify. Meanwhile the harmony moves toward an Eb center (the apparent tonic up to this point), but sours rather quickly. As the phrase above practically disintegrates, chromaticism intensifies even further. 

The next phrase is melodically fragmentary, and continues to swim harmonically until the altos and basses finally settle on an E-B dyad. In the following materials the harmony will continue to shift but will do so through less dissonant means of modulation; meter will occasionally lilt into 2/ and 3/4, but will largely remain in 4/4.

 

The most interesting development, I believe, is the shift in relations toward Eb. In the first two-thirds of the piece, Eb functions as a tonal center. But in the last third of the piece, Eb becomes an agent of chaos– its appearance is followed by an increase in dissonance. This was my own, personal development on the shape of Schoenberg's rest –> unrest –> rest. Instead of departure and return, Out presents departure, change, as something which may bring about its own sense of peace. 

You can read my entire essay on Out and Schoenberg's theories on my research page!

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Sanctus, for Mixed Chorus

Sanctus comes from a somewhat earlier time in my career, though is still an accurate reflection of my choral roots. Even at this time I was particularly interested in ensemble texture as the foregrounded musical feature. 

The sanctus text breaks down into two parts, and each is taken from a different biblical passage. The first is the book of Revelation. In a vision the author is brought into God's throne room, where four angelic beings hover at the edge of the dais. They raise their voices in perpetual song, singing of God's holiness. The second piece of the text is taken from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and details Jesus' fateful procession into Jerusalem. In this scene, Jesus rides a donkey into the city of David while his disciples and followers hail his arrival with palm branches and raised voices, shouting "hosanna!" (which means, "the Lord saves"). 

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Sanctus' opening materials are based on these open octaves, and the movement of the individual voices up through them into fuller harmony. These opening phrases reach a point of climax before descending once more, and this kind of motion is found throughout the piece. It should be noted that the opening sanctus' number only 2. Typically, a setting of the sanctus will have three utterances, in keeping with the three-fold holy of Revelation. More on that momentarily.

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This precise figure returns following the manifold hosanna. As the the choir pronounces the blessedness of the name of God, they rise up through those open octaves into exuberant adulations: Domini and hosanna. 

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There is one more appearance of this figure, at the very end. Here it bears a resemblance to the sevenfold amen from Biebel's Ave Maria– particularly with the arrangement of the ascending figures in the tenors, altos, and sopranos against the basses' slow step-wise descent. 

 

This figure occurs a total of three times in the piece, somewhat satisfying the threefold convention of most sanctus settings. And while the word sanctus does not recur a third time, there is a reason for this: my Sanctus is meant to illustrate the yet-to-be fulfilled longing for the new age mentioned above. The piece sets out that there is, in other words, an aspect of God's holiness which is yet to be fully experienced. 

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Never Know Your Love + You'll be in my Heart

Never Know Your Love is my most recent piece for barbershop quartet. I haven't gotten to spend much time in the barbershop space these past few years; graduate school requires quite a bit of my attention. But I was pleased to receive a commission from a quartet in Germany to expand one of my tags (a favorite of mine, I might add) into a complete piece. 

Never Know Your Love is something of a love song. The name, and also the tag (written in 2013), are ostensibly about unrequited love– but it's a little more complicated than that. When I wrote the original tag I wasn't grieving over any specific, missed or unreturned connection. And it was the same in 2020, when I received and filled the commission. This song is really about the idea of romantic love, how we think about it, how we feel about it, the things we hope and fear. The first half of the piece presents these ideas to us. The second half embodies them, and the distance between fulfilled desire and the present moment. 

A note of irony; shortly after completing this piece, I had my first date with the woman who will soon become my wife. Here's your encouraging reminder that "not yet" isn't the same thing as "never".

You'll be in my Heart was written in 2014. Among the handful of barbershop pieces I've done, this one is probably my favorite. I have fond memories from childhood of Disney's Tarzan, so putting this together was an absolute ball. 

This arrangement is a great example of my personal barbershop style. Classic barbershop arrangements favor rather strict homophony in carefully composed and exciting sequences of (mostly) dominant harmony, dancing up and down the circle of fifths. My barbershop tends to sit somewhere between this space and more choral textures, with doses of more straight-up pop a cappella sensibility. 

I hope to spend some more time in the barbershop space in the not too distant future, and to create more music for enthusiastic singers passionate about beautiful and exciting vocal music.