The Shepherdess and Other Saints

Chamber Orchestra (duration c. 16″00)
Commissioned and first performed by the Melbourne Metropolitan Sinfonietta, conducted by Patrick Burns on 30 October 2016 at St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Melbourne.
This work adapts I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, originally written by Lesbia Scott (1929) then re-set to the hymn tune ‘Grand Isle’ by John H. Hopkins Jr (1940).

Program Note
As a child, I was an avid churchgoer and my favourite hymn, really a Sunday school tune, was I Sing a Song of the Saints of God. It’s not hard to see the appeal (and it’s out of fashion in Australia, but still popular elsewhere in the Anglosphere)- it’s a simple, jolly melody and a chorus that presents an ever-changing list of ‘saints’ (i.e ‘ordinary people’) in a list format. Something about lists are attractive to children- cf the number of children’s books that use lists as their main narrative device. Apparently, they are all references to saints, but as a child I didn’t know the theological underpinning and just found something delightful in singing lines like “And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green”. There is still something delightful about the way the archaic word ‘shepherdess’ rolls off the tongue.

Structurally, this piece also respects my childhood memory of this hymn. It works through transformations of the melodic material- essentially a theme and variations- but does not present the material in a straightforward manner until the first appearance of the chorus about three quarters of the way through the piece. The chorus itself is reinterpreted as a buoyant, zippy finale.

The subtitle for the work is Concerto for sinfonietta. In writing the piece I had to focus on the ‘for sinfonietta’ part of the equation. Early drafts tended to spend too much time democratically showing off the possibilities of each and every instrument which was momentarily dazzling but quickly boring. Musically, I had to shift from individual concerto possibilities to a stronger consideration of the concerto in ensemble format- a happy parallel with the source material which is written for an ensemble (a congregation) and not a star soloist. Ensemble concerti have dozens of antecedents but there are hat-tips to two of the best known and loved in my work- the Bartok Concerto for orchestra has a stylistic influence on the first episode, while the brief woodwind fugato that opens the finale of the piece is a clear nod to the fugue that opens the finale of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

It is the first piece I have completed under the supervision of Carl Vine as part of my DMA, and it is his influence that has led to a cleaner style that I consider a turning point in my music.

Instrumentation
Fl, Ob, Cl, Bsn, Hn, Tpt, Tbn, BTbn, Perc, 4 Vln, 2 Vla, 2 Vc, Db.
Percussion (1 player): Bongos, Egg Shaker, Glockenspiel, Snare Drum, Suspended Cymbal, Tambourine, Temple Blocks, 2 Tom-toms, Triangle