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The Silver Swan - Orlando Gibbons

Hello all
I'm currently rehearsing this with a group of 15 high-school age students. They are very quick learners and there is no problem with creating a very passable performance of this music. I wonder if anyone has any suggestions as to how to create a really special performance? We have focused on the individuality of each line within the greater scheme of things and have tried to sing in a rhythmically precise yet expressive/ ebb and flow manner. 
Has anyone any tips or words of wisdom?
Thank you,
on February 15, 2014 6:15am
You might have a discussion about Giibbons' moment in English history, his contemporaries the Metaphysical poets, his contemporary composers, the overall cultural richness of the Elizabethan period, etc., not forgetting to point out that many historians of Western music consider him among the handful of the very greatest composers.
Are swans actually mute until the moment of death? It is this poem's allegorical richness that makes it so powerful. Gibbons may have written the poem as well as the music (if you
find a definitive account of this please forward to me). His contemporary Thomas Campion also write both text and music for some of his pieces.
I consider this brief work to be one of the greatest masterpieces of the choral repertoire, though, strictly speaking, composed for one voice per part.  I have made a simple tranposition of the work for men's voices, down to C, so countertenors are needed for the top part which goes to soprano C, and low basses as well. It sounds fine in Sibeius demo. If you wish, I'll email you a PDF of the score and an mp3 of the Sibelius audio.  Send me your direct email address.
Elsewhere, your youth choir might be delighted by my setting, SATB & very good pianist - about 13:00, of Lewis Carroll's darkly humorous The Walrus and the Carpenter, challenging but not too formidable.  I'd be pleased to send you a list of my presentable choral works for various groupings, about thirty in all, more than those listed on my ChoralNet page.
Regards,  James Johnson
Williams BA '64, Yale DMA '78, organist in Adolphus Busch Hall at Harvard 1971-1991, ASCAP, AGO, Mensa, Who's Who in America,
on February 15, 2014 9:15am
Sing it from memory.
Try a half circle and sing it to each other--it's intimate, and Rmany enaissance madrigal books were laid out for singers seated around a table.
Straght tone.
Never full voice, almost muted much of the time. It is about Ironic Regret.
Draw out the long tones (swell slightly/die), especially against another voice with a dissonance, particularly on "leaning".
Full break between the verses.
Move along, not too slow.
Don't slow down too much at the last cadence.
Be daring--end really softly.
And enjoy it.
Best regards (and fond memories of the many times I've enjoyed singing it one on a part all over)
David Avshalomov
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 15, 2014 9:22am
There is word painting throughout the piece that needs to be be incorporated into your approach to the music. A couple of effects that I have found useful. They should be done subtly, not overdone:
At "when Death approached," sing the notes slightly attached, rather than legato.
Give a little emphasis or swell to "leaning," and maybe even a slight leaning of the body to get the point across fully.
The little melismas at "O Death" need to be brought out.
"Death" is a crucial word, and requires a very well articulated D and TH.
Again, a good G at "geese."
Bring out the suspension at "fools," and a good F.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 16, 2014 12:55pm
Thanks all.
I remain in awe at the power of a forum like this.
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