Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music: Composers’ Forums

Spiritual Connections

LINDA HOESCHLER: Libby, I am curious, did you tend to incorporate Eastern elements in your music or did you stick more to the Western idiom?

LIBBY LARSEN: I stuck to Western notation, and I used only a little glissando here and there, because I love koto and so I thought I would try to honor the koto by putting tiny glissandos here and there in the piece. Believe it or not, I used 6/8 as my meter and spent the entire piece trying to negate the bar line, which is what I often do. If the world were mine as a composer, I would have no bar lines, ever. If I could write my own, a workable score, it would be a bar lineless score with a suggestion of a meter, and then I would hand out acetates to the choir to overlay bar lines as needed, just to learn the piece, but then take them away. But of course, I grew up singing Gregorian chant.

LINDA HOESCHLER: Moses, any comments when you hear about Libby? You both have very spiritual roots in your music.

MOSES HOGAN: Very interesting what she has said, and I am glad to know that you might get a little writer’s block every now and then. People often ask, “Mr. Hogan, what is your motivation?” And I acknowledge a God-given talent, and then I say, “But a deadline is right up there!” It is interesting. One of the things that you said about the text…We had a little session yesterday as I of course did have a chance to work with the kids. And so it is important—and I said to them—to have really a group discussion about the text that you’re singing. You know, my singers sing because we have a commitment to preserve something that is uniquely important. I feel a sense, a responsibility, to carry on the wonderful mission of the unknown bards who created the spiritual, whom we are not privy to know their names. And I enjoy a success and having my name published on various arrangements, but we are not privy to know the names of the individuals who created the text for “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” And so, the singers whom I surround myself with also feel the sense of responsibility and a sense of pride to keep their message of hope alive. With young people it is important, I have found, that in singing a song in a foreign language, or if you are doing one of these spirituals, to talk about what this text means to you. We had a little session yesterday, and I said, “I want to hear from you what you feel, what you have received from the text of this song. What do you feel is the message? There is no wrong answer or right answer.î Many times, kids look to us to tell them the answer, and then they respond, “Yes, that’s what I feel,” but that’s not always the case. You have to have an open session I believe, to find out what the song means to you. And so once that took place I was able to find out what they actually felt about the text that I had written, and then on many, many, many views. But once you do that, you open the door to have them deliver this song, and that’s the most important thing because I reminded them, that the singer sings the message. The public speaker speaks the message. So we have a responsibility—if it is in a foreign language, you’ve got to know what it is that you’re singing about. I heard a choir sing a composition in a foreign language and only learned it from the phonetic side. Not a clue about what they were singing about. So there was no passion; there was no facial expression. Sadly, that’s not music. And so, once we did that, I believe that enabled this song to go to the next level. That was very important. And then I was able to talk about spirituals. I asked them if they knew the origin of spirituals, and we talked about gospel music. Gospel music. I would like to make this point. Many times, when we sing gospel music as choir directors and want to expose our kids to those elements that belong to the African American choral tradition, we only focus on one aspect of gospel music, and that is the opportunity to do something with a beat, or something the choir has an opportunity to rock to. And while those elements are present, that is not the sole purpose of that. If you want to just rock and move, you can get a Jane Fonda tape! It is important to say the kids, “Why are we clapping? Why are we moving?” You need to make them aware that this music is borne out of worship experience. It is not entertainment. And I was very careful to make sure that the text would be clear to the listener and for them to understand totally the message of the song. We don’t just move or clap here to keep time. Generally, it is my experience that when the audience claps, the singers put their hands this way, or pat on the side. This is not our time to just move and rock. We have to understand why we’re clapping, because we are so full of that joy and love that we just have got to…it makes you want to do that. So this discussion was very important.