Everyone Sang. SATB solo high voice, 5′. Commissioned by Louisiana State University for the LSU Chorale and Tiger Glee Club, Trey Davis, director. Online premiere, 8 May 2020. Available from MusicSpoke.
One of the first public, non-virtual performances. Christopher Windle conducting the DePaul University Concert Choir with soloists Tyler Whitney and Macrina Forest, 26 Feb 2022.
At the beginning of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, Trey Davis, who directs choirs at Louisiana State University, commissioned me to quickly produce a work for virtual choir. For the text, he had in mind Siegfried Sassoon’s “Everyone Sang,” written at the end of World War I. For the music, he envisioned the soundscape of Gaelic psalm singing*. I immediately fell in love with both ideas and composed Everyone Sang.
The piece uses the concept of a leader “lining out” a phrase, which is also used in Sacred Harp and other traditions. These solo introductions are for any high voice. I put non-aligning rhythms and elaborations into the voices, inspired by the pibroch style of bagpipe playing. This makes the piece ideal for virtual performances with their endemic lag-time challenges, since for much of the music, the voices aren’t supposed to line up cleanly. The sound of free heterophony is what I wanted to capture: many voices singing one melody, each in its own way, all at the same time. The sonic image is similar to a flock of starlings swarming over a field—flowing, hovering, shifting, swooping—all moving individually but all moving as one.
It’s in four parts, and again, from the Sacred Harp tradition, for much of it, the top three parts can be sung by any male or female voice in any octave. So, it employs styles that may be unfamiliar to some, but they are grassroots styles, and it is fairly easy to perform for most any choral singer. A choir of any size may sing this, although the more singers, the better the effect will be.
Here’s the poem. Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) wrote it when the First World War ended:
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
*This is what Gaelic psalm singing sounds like. It’s amazing: