LU MSIt’s been a busy not-quite-two-months since returning from Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories Listen Up! tour. I came back home to Vancouver with (yes, I have since counted them) 97 manuscripts of poetry and melodies on our theme of The Four Elements. It’s the biggest participation cohort of any Listen Up! project (which is usually only in one school in one community). There is a lot of paper on my desk right now…

The task at hand is creating a 25-minute-long multi-movement work for youth choir and the Gryphon Trio, with the students’ material as the starting point. It might seem obvious, but there’s no way to include all 97 melodies in a 25-minute piece. I always knew I’d have to narrow it down, and we explained that to all the students, but how to do it?

Four ElementsFirst, after reading through the manuscripts, I noticed that about a quarter of the students wrote poetry that dealt with all four elements, while the rest focussed on one of Earth, Air, Fire or Water. So it emerged that the finished piece will be six movements: opening and closing movements that cover all the elements, and four inner movements, one for each element. As a bonus, I like the elegance of there being six movements when we visited six communities, but rather than simplistically doing one movement for each community, they’re mixed up to highlight the unifying goal of the Listen Up! project.

Second, I had to eliminate some, while still making sure that every community is represented. At about four minutes per movement, on average, I optimistically guessed maybe six poems per movement.

Seven MinutesSix MinutesI started with the finale as a test, and picked out a group of six I thought would work well together. And I got writing. When the music hit the five-minute mark and I’d only used four poems, I cut the total to five poems. Even so, when I finished, the finale was seven minutes long! It’s okay for a finale to be long, as, hey, it’s the big finish. But now I’ve done the opening processional, and it’s six minutes long and used only three poems! The piece is half done and I’ve only used eight poems! So with four short movements to go this means I’ll only be able to include at most about 20 poems and melodies in the finished piece, which means leaving out a lot of great stuff by the students, and that makes me sad.

But thanks to the nature of a Listen Up! show, we’ll find other ways to include more poems—onstage readings, lobby displays, maybe even audio or video recordings.

Music is due by the beginning of March, so the students from each community who are participating in the choir have time to learn it before we all convene in Yellowknife for the show at NACC. It’s a lot of fun to have these students’ ideas as a starting point. The writing continues…

(Four Elements graphic from HelloQuizzy)