the cmrc blog
A little snow
“Words matter”, wrote Roger Marsh once in this blog. I agree with that. I do like words. Moreover, in this already gone winter the word ‘Snow’ came across in a curious and special way.
First, it was my expectation of looking at white landscapes in this -for me- new country, so far away from mine (Chile). I must confess my disappointment when Christmas came without any whiteness… It was just at the beginning of the spring when Prince’s song (the singer) ‘Sometimes snows in April’ came true and the wished ‘halls of white’ appeared in my view.
Meantime, I attended a poetry reading by the visiting poet Caitríona O’Reilly at the HRC (where I have a desk to work and the possibility of knowing professionals from different areas). The Irish poet read some of her last poems. I especially liked one: ‘Snow’.
Then, again in this blog, Martin Suckling posted a question made by the ceramist Edmund de Waal: What is the sound of white?
Reflecting on this ‘nonsensical question’, Martin asked: if we could hear the colour of milk and ‘snow’ and clouds and sunlight, what music would it make?
Both Martin’s questions and O´Reilly’s poem inspired me to propose to ‘The Assembled’ (an ensemble of the Department of Music) to develop a musical approach: a sonorous exploration conveyed by the words, the content, the meaning, the personal thoughts and moods; deepening into the many questions that arose from the poem itself and from other sources.
During the process of exploring different sounds and ideas for the performance, we also heard the real sounds of snow falling, and we search for ‘steady, rapid sounds. Fluid and volatile.’ Finally, we built a beautiful version, and we played it in Goole. That was a significant work for me.
My research topic is about the processes that I undergo when selecting the recorder(s) model(s) to play any type of repertoire. Nothing to do with words and snow…
However, when I heard Roger´s work based and inspired on James Joyce´s Ulysses I was surprised and touched by both, the music and the words. I decided to ask him about the idea of a collaborative project as part of my PhD performance proposal.
We have talked about the shape of this future work. Meanwhile, he gave me the last “Snow drop” of the winter: His A little snow (1994) based on the poem by the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra.
“Nieve” in my Spanish.
What a wordy chain. Curious, isn´t it?
It took me time to figure out how to approach the score, originally written for solo voice.
My first task before addressing and playing ‘A little Snow’ was the search for a recorder model that could sing together with my tessitura of voice, sound with intimacy and be able to produce ‘snowy’ sounds.
After trying different models, I chose the “voice flute”- Italian flauto di voice and the French flûte de voix- : a recorder with the lowest note of D4, therefore, intermediate in size between the alto and tenor recorders. This model was a common instrument in England –not on the continent- in the eighteenth century , and it might have been so called (voice recorder) to sound in the same register as the voice of a soprano singer. I combine its gentle voicing with some extended techniques.
Having decided the suitable instrument, I analyse the way to convey the text in Spanish. I didn´t want to change much the rhythms given by the English translation of the poem, used by Roger, and the way the consonants “speak” the sound of falling snow. I thoroughly placed the Spanish words according to the musical gestures.
After that, I played the music trying to imitate the vocal lines. I had worked with texts intercalated with the music, but it is the first time I have to sing in a piece. It is usual to mix the recorder sound with the voice, sounding simultaneously. That is called ‘Humming’. But, I didn´t like that composite and thick sound. Glissandi was my first choice aiming to imitate the end – falling sung notes. However, after the first rehearse with Roger, I left it almost completely aside because its too “recorder timbre” presence. A less pitchy atmosphere should be developed at least at the beginning. I explored then many delicate sputato effects to illustrate my idea of snowy and unvoiced sounds. Other “hidden sounds” seemed to me attractive to create the atmosphere: tongue vibrato (repeating the consonant LLLLLLLL), frullato (repeating the consonant RRRRRRR), random movement of fingers articulating TKTKTK fast, lip vibrato (placing the right hand over the lip-window and moving it up and downwards), and some fast and short trills.
Ready with the sound exploration, I passed to the following step: deciding where would I sing and where would I play. The first sentence (A little snow is starting to fall again) could – and should – sound sometimes as a descending sung text and sometimes be played as a snowy, light, intimate and dramatic sputato gesture. The ascending motif that becomes more and more insistent is to be performed with the recorder combining different effects.
Finally, having defined the sung and played moments and motives – already being ‘a singing recorder player’ – , I could concentrate in the interpretation of the piece, caring about the balance between the sounds of the recorder and my voice, highlighting the mood and finding out the way to convey the spoken text.
Because, “Words matter”, wrote Roger Marsh once in this blog.