Not Your Average Choral Work
Holst's THE PLANETS, being performed this coming weekend by the Symphonic Choir and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, lies a bit outside the mainstream when it comes to works for choir and orchestra. Calling for women's voices only, Holst saves the choir until the very last seconds of his sprawling symphonic tour de force. Though the full work runs nearly an hour, our singing comes in just the last 90 seconds.
And, there are no words. Rather, the choir is asked to sing a neutral vowel throughout (the composer's note says “like the ‘uh' sound in the word ‘sun'). Holst (like Debussy and Ravel) uses the voices not for their ability to convey language or propel a literary arc, but simply for their coloristic properties.
Singing this stuff-while demanding-is great fun. It puts us in a different mental place, focusing on issues of tone/pitch/color/loudness and free of the vocal athleticism required of text and consonants.
And our singers, it will surprise nobody, are doing a fantastic job! They've taken to the work very quickly, and responded to the unique tuning challenges of this work with skillful gusto (tuning parallel triads high in the voice is a real art…even the slightest waiver of pitch can throw the whole ensemble into a tuning “black hole”!)
Another unique element in this work is found in the instruction of the “closing door,” whereby the composer requires the singers to be placed offstage, with an open door between them and the stage. As the work draws to its close, the door is slowly closed, casting an even more veiled hush on the singing, and adding to the atmospherics.
We look forward to sharing this amazing work with you very soon!
Dr. Eric Stark
Indianapolis Symphonic Choir