Utopia Begins With U

Instrumentation spatialised SATB choir and mixed ensemble (2 fl/2cl/2asax/2hn/2tpt/2trb/2vib)

Timing ca. 8′

Composed 2011

Text by Jeffrey Ryan

Commissioned by Redshift Music Society

World Premiere November 5, 2011, Vancouver Public Library Main Branch Atrium, Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver Bach Choir; Negative Zed Ensemble; Leslie Dala, conductor

Programme Notes

When Redshift Music Society approached me about writing a site-specific choral work on the theme of “Utopia”, I thought long and hard about what would be the building blocks of such a piece. The challenge of writing music for spatialised performers is, more than anything else, a matter of logistics. In a large space, text would be unintelligible. Any but the simplest of rhythms would be a blur. And how would singers across a large atrium hear each other?

After much consideration, several fundamental decisions were made. The text would simply be the six letters of the word “Utopia”, beginning with “U”, then “U-T”, then “U-T-O”, and so on, until the entire word was spelled. The harmonic progression in the piece would be a simple six-chord pattern of alternating major and minor triads connected by one common pitch, which I learned many years ago as a piano exercise. The choir would be divided into nine mini-choirs spread across the space, and the chords would pass slowly from choir to choir. Each subsequent pattern would create a different choral texture, and would rise by a semitone, building excitement, until finally landing on a triumphant A Major, on the letter “A”. And the whole thing would start by emerging from the audience, because Utopia just isn’t Utopia without you.

Utopia Begins With U was commissioned by Redshift Music Society, and was premiered November 5, 2011, by the Vancouver Bach Choir (Leslie Dala, conductor) and the Negative Zed Ensemble, in the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Performing Note

Utopia Begins With U is a flexible work that may be performed in several different scenarios. The opening “flash mob” and “travelling music” sections may be omitted, in which case the piece is approximately 6′ long.

Each subchoir has one embedded instrument which provides one pitch in each subchoir’s chord to assist with tuning; the embedded instrumentation may be altered freely depending on available instruments, so long as one note in each chord is still given. Alternatively, the embedded instruments may be omitted entirely, in which case the only instrumental requirements are two trumpets and two vibraphones.

PDF score excerpt

Utopia excerpt

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