Songs of the Questioner
I. What of the Darkness?
II. A Lost Hour
SATB divisi, piano | Duration c. 16'00”
Songs of the Questioner is the title track of the first full length CD by GRAMMY-nominated conductor James Jordan and his Philadelphia-based professional choir The Same Stream. The CD is now available on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon, as well as directly from the choir at www.TheSameStreamChoir.com, and features the music of Thomas LaVoy, Paul Mealor, Dan Forrest and Peter Relph.
Songs of the Questioner was composed over a span of two years and completed after I was invited to attend the Choral Institute at Oxford as a guest composer in 2014. I found that my oblique position at the institute allowed me to fully appreciate the individual transformations in the conductors I observed. What I began to see was that this remarkable institute created a safe environment for conductors to ask questions – not only verbal questions meant to hone their craft, but introspective questions of self-identification and the nature of their art.
Through observation I learned that the process of questioning is incredibly important to musical and personal development. I also came to realize the full extent of the impact my grandmother’s death had had on me two months prior to arriving in Oxford. Her death caused me to question everything in my life, and it wasn’t until spending a week in the calming monastic atmosphere of St. Stephen’s House, Oxford that specific questions of faith, human nature, and love came into focus. At that point I turned to Richard Le Gallienne’s English Poems and constructed a narrative that matched what I observed to be at the heart of this questioning process.
Songs of the Questioner brings us down the path that each of us takes as we recede into our minds to question important aspects of life and death. The literary device of the question mark is transmuted from a visual image on the page into a musical concept played by the piano; low pedal tones and broad, swirling harmonies in upper registers represent the ball and curl of the question mark respectively. The chorus and piano parts also have an unusual relationship in the work. The piano part contains the emotional heart of the work, the internal feeling of questioning oneself, while the choir effectively “translates” this music using the text. In this way the piano represents our subconscious and wordless thought stream; the choir is of the conscious mind that attempts to decipher this stream in real time.