We are pleased to introduce the Elise Witt Choral Series,
a set of Elise Witt compositions arranged for choir by Michael Holmes.
The music of Elise Witt exudes an innate charm, worldliness, and wit, topped with an irresistable singability. It is an arranger's joy, especially when the vocal lines lend themselves so readily to choral treatment. My challenge was to write choral arrangements that do justice to the uniqueness of Elise's beautiful contralto voice. It is mysterious in that it's the kind of voice that sounds lower than it actually is. It can sound light and flexible down low, while still providing the needed power and non-strained focus in the upper range. From the first day I worked with her, I knew that choral arrangements of her songs would flow like a river. Elise is also a first-rate song leader, and having these songs in parts finally available in print will facilitate a much wider distribution, especially since hundreds of people who have attended her workshops all over the country have been requesting them for some time. I hope that you will enjoy singing these arrangements as much as I have with my own choir in Silver Spring, Maryland.
What a joy it is to finally have my music arranged in choral treatment. I have performed and recorded most of these songs in concert versions, and for years I have been teaching and leading them with choruses, choirs, ensembles, and community groups around the country and abroad. But I have always dreamed of hearing them in full glorious choral arrangements. In Michael Holmes I have found the perfect arranger and collaborator. We are both extremely eclectic in our musical tastes and experiences. We both have a background in classical music, and we both have deep love and involvement in a myriad of musical styles ranging from gospel, folk, and blues, to jazz improvisation and ethnic music from around the world. Because Michael is both a singer and a choral conductor, as well as a music scholar, his vision is the perfect complement for my (sometimes "quirky") songs. In this series you will find music for many occasions, from inspirational to memorial to humorous. We encourage you to include improvisation and creativity in the execution of these pieces. This series also lends itself to a complete concert with all the variation in dynamics, style, and content that tells a story, the story of the power of song to transform us individually, and to unite us as community.
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About the Songs
Elise Witt • Choral Series
Au Revoir Les Bateaux was born in 1990, on the banks of the Mississippi, after a long tour through southwest Louisiana with my band the Small Family Orchestra. Happily exhausted after the energetic dancing, lively music, delicious food, and open-hearted hospitality of Cajun country, I found respite in New Orleans, gathering energy for another round of great music, dance, and food at the Jazz & Heritage Festival. Staying with friends on the border between the French quarter and the Marigny, I spent hours each day, sitting on the quai, watching the boats gliding up and down the mighty Mississippi River. With the sounds of Cajun and Zydeco music still ringing in my ears, this song emerged.
I dedicate Au Revoir Les Bateaux to all the New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents who lost so much during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Many of these folks still have not been able to return home, and live in exile remembering this vibrant city, unique in all of America.
Sitting on the edge of the Mississippi queen
Waters carry them far away
I DO REMEMBER YOU
In every hand that fights to right an old wrong
And when the mountain seems to steep
When the job gets to gettin’ too tough
In every hand that opens toward me in love
My Journey Yours
My Journey Yours was originally commissioned by a multi-disciplinary arts project of the same name with Refugee Family Services in Clarkston, Georgia. RFS serves more than 2500 refugees each year from countries including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Burma, Burundi, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Vietnam. Programs help refugee women and children regain self-sufficiency through education and economic opportunity. The project My Journey Yours served to incorporate arts into the social service work of the agency.
My Journey Yours musically represents the refugees’ journey from their homelands, through the seemingly unending days of waiting, to the challenge of creating a new life as Americans in Clarkston, Georgia. For the first section of the piece, the RFS staff members--themselves refugees and immmigrants--translated the phrase “my journey, yours” into their language, and each woman sang me a song she remembered from childhood. I gathered lullabies, children's songs, and musical games from each of the countries represented. With each language, I took a musical phrase from their song and put the words "my journey yours" in their language over that musical phrase. Then I stacked these musical phrases on top of each other into a multi-lingual, multi-cultural vocal collage. Improvisation over the collage is encouraged and recommended. Connecting this section to the next are musical phrases in Vietnamese and Somali, calling out the anguish of leaving home, and the intense difficulty of the journey. Many of these people have spent up to 25 years in refugee camps.
The last section of the piece represents the new home, shared by refugees from many lands. It uses a 6/8 Bosnian chord progression, with the words "my journey yours" sung in English. Once this section is established, I recommend vocal improvisation over it, allowing individual voices to speak/sing while the group holds the foundation. Allow this part time to develop and flourish.
My Salsa Garden was inspired by my neighbor Harriette Bugel, who helped me plant my first garden in Pine Lake, Georgia. She said, “Wouldn’t it be fun and delicious to plant a salsa garden?” That made me think, “Wouldn’t it be fun and delicious to concoct a song whose lyrics are the ingredients of salsa, accompanied by salsa music?” So, here’s the recipe. ¡Buen provecho!
Do you have a recipe for my Salsa Garden?
Come on and dance with me
In 1989, Paula Larke, Jo Carson, Linda Parriss-Bailey, Celeste Miller, and I were commissioned by the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans to create a collaborative performance, Five Women From the Southeast: How We Came To Be Here. Our first meeting at Paula’s house in Shelby, NC began with telling our life stories. A theme that emerged in all the stories was the stereotypical images and values associated with black/white, day/night,wrong/right.
By the end of the first long day of talk, we all agreed that we needed a walk. We set off through the pleasant mountain town of Shelby. Paula and I, having the longest legs in the group, were soon many paces ahead. Suddenly we were brought to a standstill by the most brilliantly blooming bush we had ever seen. In the light of almost dusk, it was an intense, vibrant, glow-in-the-dark pink. As we lingered to admire this phenomenon of nature, an elderly woman emerged from the house. She obviously appreciated how much we were marvelling at this plant, which she said had been a gift from her “gentleman friend” of many years. Now, since he had passed away (at the age of 83), it was her fond memory of him. Its name, she told us with the delight of remembered sweetness, is the Night Blooming Jasmine. Paula and I exchanged a glance, agreeing wordlessly that it was a perfect metaphor for the images from that day’s storytelling. We knew right then that it would make a great song.
More than a year later, we were still enthusiastic about the idea, but had yet to set pen to paper. Then I received a call from the director of Alternate ROOTS, our organization of Southeastern community artists, asking me to lead singing at the upcoming annual meeting. Could I please initiate the meeting with a song that would set the scene for our week of work dealing with dismantling racism and examining issues of color, discrimination, black/white, dark/light, day/night, wrong/right?
The next morning, I awoke hearing Night Blooming Jasmine emerge in full musical splendor. Later that evening, in the mountains of Georgia, it had its first run-through with a 200-voice chorus of Alternate ROOTS artists. Paula helped with some arranging and revision, and since then it has been sung in workshops and meetings all over the country and overseas and is in the repertoire of the Threshold Choir. It seems to glow in the dark.
Chorus: In the darkness we walk with light
Verse 1: A shining darkness glows in me
Chorus: Open the window, children
Mama and Papa are fighting like snakes
Neighbors lock their doors, build fences so high
Borders ‘round countries, borders ‘round the skies
Some people have money, some people have none
This big old world is in a great big mess
Spanish Abran la ventana, niños
French Ouvrez la fenêtre, mes enfants
German Öffnet die Fenster, lasst die Taube herein
Farsi Pan jarraró voskon taw, kabutaró bían
Yoruba Shi le kõn aiyo ki ore so kalé
Kirundi Ogururá ididishá, oréke i numa yinjíre
A fun performance piece, Thank You has a middle section that allows for creativity and multi-cultural harmony. Construct a vocal collage, using the words for “thank you” in various languages. Whenever possible, invite native speakers to teach the pronunciation, so that singers can discover the colors and rhythms inherent in the sounds each language. Compose a repeatable rhythmic/melodic phrase for each language. Then, layer the musical phrases into a multi-lingual tapestry of interlocking parts. Below is the collage I created with my students at an international school in Atlanta.I also accompany this song with Sign Language.
Verse 1 We can say it to our mamas
Chorus My friends love to hear it
Verse 2 We can say it in the morning
Bridge My ears love to hear it, thank you
Verse 3 We can say it in Spanish,
Merci (French) * Gracias (Spanish) * Grazie (Italian) * Hsei Hsei (Mandarin Chinese)
Verse 4 We can say it when we're laughing
Verse 5 We can say it in the moonlight
Some people get so scared at the sound of “revolution”
Some people get so scared at the sound of “radical”
Some people get so scared at the sound of “liberal”
Sto cercando una nuova armonia
E nell'acqua dove vorrei vivere
Sono in armonia con le molecole
Ho sentito parlare un'astronauta alla radio
Sto cercando una nuova armonia
I am looking for a new harmony
In the water is where I want to live
I am in harmony with the molecules
I heard an astronaut speaking on the radio
Why are our eyes in the front of our heads?
If our eyes were 'round on the other side of our skull
If our eyes were all around our heads
You couldn't sneak around behind me
And what if, God forbid, we had no eyes at all
Why are our eyes in the front of our heads?
In The News
An article in the times-georgian.com (Carroll County, Georgia) about the Clear Rivers Chorus performing "The Spiral Song".