Behold, Emmanuel

So, this guy I know wrote this really cool choral piece for men’s choir.

I’ve gotten to know a very cool local choir director (she’s Zane’s piano teacher too) who roped me into playing percussion for a couple choir concerts, as well as doing a recording of her community choir singing last Christmas season’s program.

Like most music majors, I sang in the big choir at school, and was exposed to some pretty cool music back then. And like most “commercial” musicians, I don’t hear or write that sort of thing in the course of my typical pop/rock record production gigs.

So, inspired by this reemergence of “serious” choral music in my life, I thought maybe I should give it a try. Janine, the aforementioned choir director encouraged me to write something for Christmas, and offered to have the choir sing it, assuming it passed muster.

I came up with this.

behold_emmanuel_DEMO_071009.mp3

Behold, Emmanuel

Obviously this is just a demo… Thanks to Michelle, Alissa and Ryan for singing the parts I couldn’t.

Janine seems to like it. She’s offered to show it to a bunch of mucky-mucks she knows in that world, so who knows where it’ll go. I’m sure I’ll be losing all sorts of street cred as a hip pop/rock producer by dipping a toe in the choral music world, but I figure in the spirit of “lots of irons in the fire” it can’t hurt.

Let me know if you’d like to see the score… I’ll email it to you.

23 thoughts on “Behold, Emmanuel

  1. aly hawkins

    As an alto/mezzo, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would LOVE to sing this, if only I sang in a choir anymore.

    Get Mike to send it to Rod Cathey, the conductor of APU’s University Choir and Orchestra. This has UCO written all over it.

    Good work!

  2. Stick Post author

    Yeah, I slid a few ranges around, and divided a few things up so it’s more manageable for more choirs with less messing around.

  3. michael

    by the way, I totally here the places here where you ripped off my piece. Like the one spot, where you had some tension, and then it resolved, that’s totally what I did in my piece too.

    They are basically copies.

    You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.

  4. Stick

    Hey, if you’re gonna rip something off, rip it off from the best. You da man.

    “I do-a-not thinka that means-a whata you think-a that means.” (Movie, anyone?)

    Well, I couldn’t remember if “spp” was legal or not. The idea is subito pianissimo. The opposite of “sff” elsewhere. Is there a better (or at least more standard) way to indicate that?

  5. Stick

    Hi Char,
    Did I meet you at sectional last Wed? Are you coming this week? Hopefully we’ll take a look at it then.

  6. michael

    I think the “s” in sf stands for sforzando, or “force”. It’s a dynamic plus an accent.

    For “subito” I might use sub. pp for short.

  7. KP

    “inconceivable” is the word. Princess Bride is the film. To quote a quote, “The book is better”.

  8. Stick

    Ah, yeah… sub. PP it should be. Sigh, now I gotta make that fit in the little spaces. HA!

    I probably found something online that led me astray. Because, as you know, everything on the Internet is true.

  9. Jennifer

    Brian,
    Wonderful composition! Can’t wait to try it on Wednesday at our women’s sectional. See you then.

  10. michael

    So Brian, I’m very curious about your process for writing something like this. How methodical is it? Do you work from end to end or were there sections that sprang immediately to mind, and then you wrote connecting tissue?

  11. stick

    So, my process.

    In this case, I had a general idea of what I wanted the text to say. So, I started there. I thought it’d be interesting to tie the word Behold to the couple spots it shows up in the Christmas story. First in Isaiah, then when the angel visits Mary. And I’ve always liked “Emmanuel”, God with us. A great sounding word with a pile of meaning behind it. And then, the visual of the heavenly host singing “Glory to God” sort of wrapped it up… the rejoicing that Emmanuel has arrived.

    Then the music… as I thought about the “behold”s, I decided that it should be the launch point, and thus the “intro” to both verses. Once I had that, it was pretty much composed from beginning to end. I knew I wanted the verses to have rhythmic counterpoint (the soprano part fits in between the beats of the “accompaniment”). And the chorus to be more of a flowing chorale vibe. And the Emmanuel as the “tag” to the chorus as sort of a bunch of entrances that sort of rhythmically fight each other and resolve nicely in the end. The build to the Coda section, “The heavenly host sings”, was pretty much what I heard in my head… something soft and unison that expands out, and then bursts into the “Glory to God”. Funny, I had been working on another gig that for some reason I’d transposed my keyboard to Eb, and when I went back to this, and started on the “Glory” section, it sounded like the appropriate lift jumping from Dm of the 2nd “heavenly host”, so I just kept it there to finish it out. And that section is just the “classical” version of a gospel choir rockin’ out.

    As far as melodies and motifs… When I got to the first soft “Emmanuel”, and liked how that felt, I figured that might make a good rhythmic motif to use elsewhere, which I did most importantly in the “Emmanuel” section after the chorus. And then I realized that the “Behold” riff is sort of alluding to that motif right off the bat anyway. Melodically, nothing special to report… the melody was really a slave to the harmonic motion I wanted (in the chorus, for example). And in the Behold intros, the soprano melody is just sort of the upper extension of the open harmony. And it sounds cool.

    So, in answer to your question, it was mostly written end to end. But, I had in mind where I was going after writing the text first. VCVC Coda. Harmonically, I’m really just fishing around for the sound I want, though, I’m not the type that “hears” it in his head and then writes it. I just had this notion of the spread I wanted, and hunted around for it. I actually pulled up a choir patch in Logic to get at least a vague notion of what the rub of the notes would sound like with voices, as opposed to guessing more with a piano.

    There you have it. Now I need to go fix my bad dynamic markings. I wonder how one would play a sfortzando pianissimo?

  12. michael

    I think I wrote 80% of Our Father driving in the car to and from APU. When I got there, it would be a mad dash to get it down on paper before it drifted out of my mind.

    When you talk about harmony, do you have full harmonic stacks worked out? I usually find myself starting with motion, with individual lines that move from one note to the the next, and then treating it like a theory project to figure out which additional notes will work to make a functional harmony.

  13. stick

    Yeah, I can’t do that. I have to sit there and fish around.

    No, the stacks certainly aren’t worked out. I go back and forth between plunking around and actually thinking about the theory. And yeah, kinda the same vibe with the motion, though in this case, I’d work out a bar or two of motion before I committed it.

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