Saturday, September 28, 2013

In the heart of a friend.

My composition, “The Arrow and The Song” was a reaction to the challenge proposed in the last issue of “Amis Updates”. My piece is a setting for SSA and piano. It works as well a a unison choir or solo. Dick and Georgia Bassett commissioned a piece by Paul Hopkins using the text “The Arrow and The Song” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Here are my thoughts for constructing this piece.

The Arrow and the Song
I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend. 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

First thing, I sang a melody to the text - “I shot an arrow into the air.” But where was the natural accent? Was it; “ I shot an ar-row in-to  the air”? I played around with it, and it just didn’t sound right. Where was the action?  Where was the actor? Moving the the accent to “I” and maintaining the secondary accent on “shot” seemed a solution. Now to symbolize the “shot”. I imagined shooting an arrow; the bow is drawn, aimed. Hmm, it wasn't’ aimed - further reading of the poem implies that. It seemed to me that an a leap was indicated a perfect fifth - no, to martial. Perfect octave - too much. Major sixth - hmm sounds good, with a hint of dissonance. Not a lot, but just a hint of the unexpected. The melody outlines a D6 triad- cool! Word painting - “It feel to earth” - descending line. “I knew not where.” Hmm - change the key centre! That’s the first two lines sorted out!. A descending sequence in the last two lines - decorated scale. Hmmm. The text runs out and it’s re not do. I know! The piano finishes off the phrase as an introduction to the next verse. The melody was an arc - 2 lines up - two lines down. 

I sang the second stanza. It fit, with a bit of rhythmic alteration. Now vary it for the third stanza. Where’s the drama? It is in the third stanza - “Looong, looong afterward.” - just saying it, the rhythm suggests itself. Sequence for the second line. The rest came in a flash. I repeated the last two lines in a mini-coda. 

Writing the accompaniment, I used tried and true method of boom-chick left hand on one and three, chords on two and four for  the first two stanza. For the third and fourth stanzas I reversed it with a pedal D. (Use the introduction for hand positions.) For the third verse I used the Rodgers and Hammerstein short - long - short rhythm - think “I Have Dreamed” for contrast and the feeling of tension that is created by pedal A with E minor chord followed by F# minor. A few more “finishing touches”, a modified thematic attempt at the end and it was done! 

“The Arrow and the Song” was dedicated “To Richard and Georgia Bassett - may your dreams go on and on.” The song is free of charge to all AMIS schools and license to copy freely granted to AMIS Schools. The song and a recording from Sibelius are available on the AMIS News Page. I hope you’ll at least consider it for your groups. 

Until the next time!