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Look Inside

Fred Lerdahl

The First Voices

for voices and percussion

soprano, mezzo, alto, 8 percussion (see preview page for instrumentation details) (2007)
Duration12'
CommissionCommissioned by the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble
Premiere2007; New England Conservatory, Boston, MA; New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble • Frank Epstein, conductor
Technical requirementsThe singers are to be discreetly amplified.
PublisherSchott Music

Media

Program Note

The First Voices (2007), for eight percussionists and three singers (soprano, mezzo, alto), was commissioned by Bradford and Dorothea Endicott for Frank Epstein and the New England Conservatory. The work is dedicated to Frank Epstein, director of the NEC Percussion Ensemble. I also wish to thank Robert Dodson, former provost at NEC, for his role in making this commission possible.

In my youth I went to the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York and sat mesmerized for four hours listening to West African drumming. The First Voices is my homage to that experience. My starting point was a parallel, discovered by ethnomusicologists in the 1980s, between standard scales and West African rhythms. If you count up the major diatonic scale in semitones, the pattern is 2-2-1-2-2-2-1. Similarly, the pattern for the pentatonic scale is 2-2-3-2-3; for the major triad it is 4-3-5. West African drumming often employs these asymmetrical patterns as durational values. For example, the rhythmic equivalent to the diatonic scale is quarter-quarter-eighth-quarter-quarter-quarter-eighth.

The First Voices is in one high-spirited movement, about 12 minutes long. The form is ABABA. After a brief vocal introduction, the A sections exclusively employ the asymmetrical West African rhythms. When pitched instruments or voices enter, they play or sing scales and chords equivalent to their rhythmic counterparts, often in canon. Consequently, the piece is more diatonic and triadic than most of my music. In transitional passages, I inject more symmetrical scales (octatonic, hexatonic, whole-tone) along with their rhythmic equivalents. The B sections are built from a different principle: as in certain pygmy music, they move in 36-beat cycles, divided into simultaneous sub-cycles (4 x 9, 6 x 6, etc.).

The text, from Rousseau’s Essay on the Origins of Language, is an eloquent early statement of the view that music and language co-evolved. My approach to the text is rather abstract; using the French seemed unnecessary, and the setting is in English translation. The text has an oblique relationship to what is essentially a percussion piece, for which the voices provide another layer of texture and meaning.

Purchase

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Types of Products

Anthology edition (Print)

Full score and Solo Part (Digital)

Full Score/Violin Part (Digital)

Full Score/Violin Part (Print)

Conductor Score (Print)

Score and part (Print)

Score and part (Digital)

Choral Score Set - 16 copies (Print)
Includes 8 copies of the soprano/alto part and 8 copies of the tenor/bass part.

Piano Reduction and solo parts (Digital)

Chamber Ensemble Score (Print)

Choral Score Set - 20 copies (Print)

Full Score (4 needed for performance) (Print)

Parts (Mov. 11 only) (Print)

Full Score (3 scores needed for performance) (Print)

Full Score (3 scores needed for performance) (Digital)

Full Score/Performance Score (2 required for performance) (Digital)

Full Score/Performance Score (2 required for performance) (Print)

Full Score/Performance Score (includes 3 copies) (Digital)

Full Score/Performance Score (includes 3 copies) (Print)

Choral Booklet (Digital)

Choral Booklet (Print)

Full Score in 3 volumes (Print)

Video and instructions (Digital)

Study Score in Two Volumes (Print)

Piano reduction and solo part (Print)

Piano/Vocal Score (Print)

Piano/Vocal Score (Digital)

Score and Parts (Digital)
Score and part PDF files are delivered via email upon receipt. Any electronic files associated with the work are included with every purchase.

Full Score (Digital)
A PDF file of the full score is delivered via email upon receipt.

Soprano/Alto Part (Print)

Tenor/Bass Part (Print)

Full Score (Print)
A print edition of the score ships to the customer's address upon receipt.

Parts (Digital)
A PDF file of the part(s) is delivered via email upon receipt.

Parts (Print)
A print edition of the part(s) ship to the customer's address upon receipt.

Solo Instrument Score (Digital)
A score PDF file is delivered via email upon receipt. Any electronic files associated with the work are included with every purchase. An email containing a link to download the electronic files is sent to the customer's email address.

Full Score/Performance Score (Digital)
The full score serves as a performance score for all players. A score PDF file is delivered via email upon receipt. Any electronic files associated with the work are included with every purchase. An email containing a link to download the electronic files is sent to the customer's email address.

Score and Parts (Print)
A print edition of the score and part(s) ship to the customer's address upon receipt. Any electronic files associated with the work are included with every purchase. The email containing a link to download the electronic files is sent to the customer.

Solo Instrument Score (Print)
A print edition of the score is shipped to the customer's address upon receipt. Any electronic files associated with the work are included with every purchase. An email containing a link to download the electronic files is sent to the customer's email address.

Full Score/Performance Score (Print)
The full score serves as a performance score for all players. Print edition(s) of the full score/performance score are shipped to the customer's address upon receipt. Multiple copies are included if the work has more than one player. Any electronic files associated with the work are included with every purchase.

Choral Score (Digital)
A PDF file of the choral score is delivered via email upon receipt. The set is priced to allow multiple copies of the PDF to be printed for performance by the purchasing organization only.

Study Score (print) (Print)

Study Score (print) (Digital)

Choral Score Set- 8 copies (Print)
Minimum order quantity is 8 copies. Single copies are not available.

SATB choral score (Print)

Vocal Score (Digital)

Vocal Score (Print)

Choral Score (Print)

Full Score and Solo Part (Print)
A print edition of the score and solo part ships to the customer's address upon receipt.

Mezzo-soprano, 2 tenors, baritone score (Print)

Study Score (Print)

Study Score (Digital)

SATB choral score (Digital)

Mezzo-soprano, 2 tenors, baritone score (Digital)