SSA. I composed this after the mezzos in the Bloomington Feminist Chorus told me to “write a song around A, we like that note.” The piece is actually killer for the First Sopranos, with leaps and jumps to impossible intervals. The mezzos stay on A throughout the whole thing. A completely discordant piece with almost all the lyrics beginning with “S.” Very silly; it includes various asides to the audience and ends with the last few bars of the Hallelujah Chorus. I dare you to sing this.
SSA with solo lead. Up-tempo R&B piece that everybody can snap along to. The song thanks friends for always being there through thick and thin. This one’s a crowd-pleaser and fun to sing, with a slow burn at the end. Takes a sassy soloist and a funky ensemble to pull off.
SSAA. My tribute to The Boswell Sisters, the greatest arrangers of all time. This piece is a setting of the rather stuffy Victorian feminist poem by Sarah Bolton. My arrangement came in second for a state-wide competition (okay, there were only two entries—but they did debate for a really long time!). It starts as a parody of barbershop choral harmonies before harrowing off into a jazzy, boppy Boswell sound.
SSA with soprano descant. Melody: Russian folksong “The Pear Tree.” English lyrics inspired by Latvian dainas in honor of Laima, daughter of the Sun. 3/4 time but not a waltz; gentle and very lovely. About a spiritual journey: at first Laima seems to have disappeared, but then the singer realizes She’s been there all along.
Call-and-response folksong. This song came to me in a dream. In the dream, Kaia was sharing its collective grief over the devastation of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In our minds was the story I’d heard in the waking world the night before, told by Cameron Diaz during a national fund-raising telethon. In The Exodus from New Orleans post-Katrina, reporters came across a six-year-old boy with a baby in his arms. Behind him were five children, the youngest hardly old enough to walk. They all were holding hands, walking down the road together. The kids were relatives and friends of each other and had no idea where their parents were. But they were walking out of New Orleans, heading away from apocalypse and towards the unknown. The good news is all the children were reunited with their parents. That haunting image of what it took for those children to do that was very much present in our minds in the dream as we sang.
A postscript: The week we debuted this piece, the last Katrina orphan was reunited with her family.
7-part arrangement. Ysaye M. Barnwell/Sweet Honey in the Rock, 2008. I fell in love with this powerful examination of September 11th upon first hearing. But I also felt that the lyrics were too academic and the style didn’t unleash the power of inner song. But who the heck am I to question Sweet Honey?? With much humility, I arranged this seven-voice version in an En Vogue-influenced style. Lead trio of women’s voice, an “angel trio” of women’s voices, and a rockin’ bass that should probably be sung by tenors instead of altos.
6-part arrangement. Radiohead. An adaptation from Radiohead’s brilliant tune on Hail To The Thief. I’ve had several people say they like this a cappella version better than Radiohead’s original. (I love them both, so take it for what it’s worth.) High soprano must be capable of sustained, legato high tones.