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Transcribing 'Sleep, My Child' for Chanticleer

March 15, 2008 at 9:01 pm UTC

That’s what I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks… transcribing Sleep, My Child for Chanticleer. I’ve re-posted it on my myspace page for anyone who’d like to hear it.

If you’re not a major choir geek like yours truly, you wouldn’t necessarily know about Chanticleer. It’s a professional group made of 12 men, but unlike the King’s Singers (another all male group with two counter tenors, a tenor, two baritones, and two basses), Chanticleer is a full SATB choir, with actual male altos and sopranos. Their sound is simply divine.

Sleep, My Child is the slow, quasi-operatic female trio from Paradise Lost:Shadows and Wings, and for years I’ve wanted to arrange it for a cappella chorus. Chanticleer commissioned the transcription, and will perform it on their world tour next year; they seem excited to see how it sounds. Me, I’m OVER THE FRICKIN’ MOON. I cannot wait to hear them do it. Shadow Water Music (my publishing imprint) will release the sheet music worldwide in January 2009.

And, as a mildly interesting side note:

I’m constantly talking about ‘cannibalizing’ my music, and Sleep, My Child is the perfect example. Back in 1997 the composition students at Juilliard put on an end-of-the-year revue, a concert showcasing lots of pieces that we had written during the school year. I was tasked with writing a bunch of ‘interstitial’ music, little scenes that would serve as a way to distract the audience while we reset the stage for the next piece.

Our concert was called “Phantasmagoria” (I can’t remember why), and somehow I got it into my head that I would have the three witches from Macbeth be the characters in the scenes. (Hila, my girlfriend at the time, played the high soprano witch. Heh… I just totally called my wife a high soprano witch. Honey, put down the axe). I took all of their lyrics from a couple of sources, mostly Shakespeare, and set them in different styles. They sang the “Double, double, toil and trouble” scene in an Andrews Sisters parody, and I set e.e. cummings hist wist for them to chant in rounds while they danced around a spellbook. (I even played brooms on that piece in a weird deer mask).

By the end of the evening, things were supposed to have gotten out of control for our three witches, their spellbook malfunctioning like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and so my great friend Steve Bryant wrote this insane show-stopper that had all of the performers from that evening (probably thirty people) all marching around the stage playing crazy, loud stuff. In my memory there are bubbles and fog and strange lighting. And at the big climax of Steve’s piece (if any of you know Steve, and his music, then you know that ‘big climax’ is generally a huge understatement) he ran out onto the stage with a giant bass drum and hit it so hard that the mallet went through the head. (It was a fake drumhead, but still pretty effective). That stopped all of the madness on stage instantly, and all of the performers froze in their tracks.

And in this silence our three witches stepped forward, and sweetly sang:

This above all — to thine ownself be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

It’s from Polonius’ famous speech to Laertes, and I tried to set it so that it would just be beautiful, gently washing the audience in a simple benediction after Steve’s onslaught. The three witches sang it beautifully, and the whole concert was a big, trippy hit.

So years later, working on Paradise Lost with David Noroña, we decided that we needed a trio in the second act for our two sopranos and a mezzo. BOOM! I went to my big box of old manuscripts, dusted off “This Above All”, and recopied it note for note. Then David wrote completely new words for it:

In your dreams you’re not alone,
Though mother’s child has flown.
And if the night that follows should be dark,
Just listen for the lark, and sleep, my child.

Then I built the rest of the song around the final motive from Sleep, and that was that. I sometimes joke that eventually I won’t have to write anything original, I’ll just re-purpose all of my old pieces to make new ones. Ah, if only it were that easy… ;-)


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