Friday, September 9, 2016

Notes on "Light Comes, Even in Darkness" - a new choral piece by Becky Archibald

The opening 20 bars were conceived while riding a stationary bike in my basement…

When it comes to lyrics, I like to step away from my piano sometimes and sing into my tape recorder to help capture my gut reaction, especially when it comes to rhythm. Glenna Heath, who commissioned the piece, had sent me some suggestions of favorite verses in Psalms that I was considering, so I went downstairs to do something that sort of distracted me from trying too hard to be musical and allowed me to just react. We had discussed Taize music, how it repeated, sometimes in round, and could slowly build by adding each line of voices. When I thought about words that I would want to repeat in song, “Light comes, even in darkness” resonated with me as something I needed to tell myself OFTEN.

As I meditated on these words, I thought about all of the good things that happen in darkness – seeds growing in earth, cocoons, the womb. I thought about how darkness to light is not instant, it is often a very slow, gradual process. I wanted the opening to convey this by repetition of just the word “light,” even before repeating the phrase “light comes.” I used word painting when it was fitting, such as the ascending notes at the beginning on “light comes” and the falling notes at ms. 77 on the phrase “in the dark…”

For the “New every morning” section, I distinctly remember writing the accompaniment pattern and chords at ms. 30, and then wondering how to treat it lyrically and melodically. I have had much more success having words first and then music, so it was a big challenge to try it the opposite way. Thankfully, the prayer of the Thanksgiving in the Methodist Hymnal came to me as being a possible fit. I like that the notes on “new every morning” are gradual and step-wise and the chords on the words “stir up in us” are more dissonant.

More word painting – notice that the chord of ms. 57 is darker sounding (even in darkness) than the one at ms. 65 (every morning.) Also, some of the “big moments” of the piece are on the word “light” and, just for the Joyful Sound choir, on the word “joy!”

The final section at ms. 91 is another mix of darkness and light. Although the key is D minor, if you listen closely to the harmonies in the piano and voices, each chord is a major chord. I wanted this section to sound celebratory and to have another opportunity to build toward a high point. The women sing first, the men join on the repeat, and the third time, each voice is lifted higher “simply” by swapping parts. And just when you thought I was done with this “growth” concept, I give it a go one more time using a variation of the “new every morning” motive but with an ascending scale. And for the last word - I wanted it to be about newness rather than darkness. I wanted the basses to end on a high note, not resolving to the D but singing something that felt more like it is left up in the air.

Here is the world premiere, by the Joyful Sound choir, directed by Charles Manning, at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. The piece was commissioned for the choir's 20th anniversary.

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