Ian Stephens was commissioned to write a short piece for Finchley Children’s Music Group’s 2020 summer course last July. He has written then Hummingbird, for mixed choir, unison choir and body percussion, a great addition to the choir repertoire which doesn’t feature much works for humming choirs (and that’s one thing people can actually do together at the moment…)
Ian Stephens himself tells us about his collaboration with FCMG and about this new piece.
‘My relationship with FCMG and their director Grace Rossiter goes back to 2015 when I wrote a larger-scale piece for them, On Goes The River: Three Songs of Childhood, for choir, piano and optional small ensemble.
FCMG is made up of four choirs, Beginner, Intermediate, Senior and Chamber, ranging in age from 4 to 18. This summer course was happening outdoors, socially distanced, and FCMG were following the government advice that open-mouth singing was to be avoided.
So I decided on a combination of humming and body percussion. It’s a first for me to write a vocal piece with no text – I normally respond closely to the contours and emotional journey of a text in writing vocal music, so without this as a guide, it was an experience much closer to writing for instruments. I decided on the name Hummingbird for no other reason than the piece was for a humming choir – And who doesn’t like hummingbirds?!
The plan was for the piece to be recorded during the course. Grace asked if I would include a fairly straightforward unison part that could be recorded at home by FCMG members who were not attending the course. And there are three body percussion parts, with the first part more challenging, and two easier parts. I’ve put together a body percussion key which I’ve used throughout.
The piece is framed by a rhapsodic, modal passage for the SSAATBB mixed choir. The main body of the piece is animated by a gradually building body percussion ostinato, which hints at the music of the Eastern Mediterranean, and the melodic material of this section is carried by the unison choir – again, the melody has a definite flavour of the Eastern Mediterranean, with side-glances to klezmer.
I’ve included suggested vowel sounds for future use when open-mouthed singing is again permitted. Two versions of the score are available: (1) full score, and (2) unison choir and body percussion. The full score is required; the cut-down score for unison choir and body percussion is for any people just on those parts.
FCMG plan to do a recording once they can meet in a non-socially-distanced way.
I hope other choirs will choose this piece as a reason to come together and make music during this pandemic, and afterwards’.
Composers Edition is very proud to present Hummingbird, as well as other works by Ian Stephens, readily available for perusal and purchase through our website.