Stephen Leek, Ngana
Dear Choralist Members -
Once more, my thanks to the many of you who volunteered your expertise in
working with "Ngana" - particularly the section at letter M where the
extended notes have what appear to be percussion roll symbols over them.
You've heard it before, but the Choralist is an incredible and precious
resourse for all of us - many thanks! While all the advice was helpful,
the last two messages cut right to the quick! Following is the advice I
I did this piece two years ago and the publisher gave me Stephen Leek's
email address. He was very helpful in sorting out some of the issues with
this piece. He gave some good advice about how the tone for the piece
should be informed by the sound of the Australian language (brighter,
etc.). I hope you are able to get in touch with him.
If I remember correctly, the spot you are refering to requires you to
rapidly repeat "n" on that pitch. It comes out sounding like "na-na-na" as
fast as possible.
This piece is *hard* to get to sound good. I remember it took my good group
forever to sound right on this. They loved the piece, but it was well after
we "knew the notes" that the piece was performance ready. Be warned!
What I recall is that the notation you mention signifies either a repeated
glottal attack or tongue - lip trill, and that it is spelled out somewhere
in small print in the edition itself. (Leek's message, put politely, was
that I should read the directions.)
I've puzzled with that, too. It's a tremelo. I have the singers sing 16th
notes to the syllables ah-ih-ah-ih (sung without jaw movement, but done
with the tongue), etc., to the pitches e-f-e-f (I'm not sure of pitches -
my score is put away), etc. I hope this helps you. It works great.
I have done Ngana and came up with a solution of my own ..... somewhat of a
random repeated note ... like a soft glottal --- or a Monteverdi
ornament.....but I'll bet the composer has a better idea. Good luck!
Morton Music, the publisher, has a website and are very good at giving
info. I believe Leek himself has responded here in the past. Go right to
the top. I was surprised when Alice Parker responded personally a while
back. Hope this helps.
When I did this piece a couple years ago, I listened to both the St. Olaf
recording and Stephen Leek's own recording with a group called the
Australian Voices. Hate to tell you this, but it's more like a trill than
anything else, although St. Olaf doesn't really perform it that way. I
know it's a little scary, but it's actually a fabulous effect, especially
as it moves from one part to another. Hey -- experiment with the trill,
and if you don't like it, leave it out.
A colleague, send me your question regarding Ngana. I'm actually an
Australian, now living in the USA, and I introduced Ngana to the
Westminster Community - hence, I tend to get these questions and am always
delighted to help. The section you refer to is puzzling, and I've often
wondered why Stephen Leek does not explain it better in the score. (I know
him very well.) So, the standard performance practice is for the singers
to move their tongues rapidly from side to side whilst singing the pitch.
The idea is to create a vocal timbre that has an aura of authenticity from
the Aboriginal influence on the music. (Definitely do not trill - too
The piece was written for my high school choir here in Australia. I do not
have my score with me, but assume the notation in question is a wavy line.
This is not so much a symbol, but a graphic notation device, asking the
singers to undulate the pitch (speed and degree of pitch variation left to
the individual singer). You may be interested in a recording of the piece
by the Australian Voices (of which Stephen is the producer). It is called
"The Listening Land" and is available online from DJ records. The four
other pieces in the set from which Ngana comes are about to be published.
The work is also available for 4 part treble choir.
Best wishes for a great performance,
and finally, from the one person who is sure to know
I am pleased to hear that you are enjoying Ngana...it is quite a challenge
in many respects, though, as I am sure you have discovered, it looks quite
straight forward on paper. I actually don't hear much about the
performances of my work anywhere really, other than when people have
problems ....so, it is nice to hear that you and your choir are enjoying
what I do.
The question that you have asked is a common one and is unclear on the
score as the instruction was omitted in error in the publication.
As you have suggested (I was once a professional instrumentalist also) the
symbol is like that of a roll. In fact the singers individually repeat the
word "na" on the pitch, as fast as they can. The collective result is the
same as a drum roll....or at the very least a vibrant and rich texture.
If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me. I look
forward to hearing how it all goes in the end.
Special thanks to the following:
Dr. Thomas N. Bookhout
Heather J. Buchanan
and, of course, to composer Stephen Leek
Vocal Music and Drama
Blue Earth Area High School
1125 Highway 169 North
Blue Earth MN 56013-2307
(please note new e-mail address)