She's Like the Swallow

Conductor Notes:

This much-beloved, haunting folksong from Newfoundland is beautifully set for soprano solo, SSA a cappella by Stephen Smith. Smith never loses the sense of the directness and simplicity of the folksong style and yet manages to capture the gentle, poignant atmosphere of the text and tune. Starting with a soprano solo over sustained humming, the texture of the choral background gradually starts to unfold to support the increasing intensity of the text. By the third verse the choir is singing in a three part canon at unison pitch. This juxtaposition of the tune’s fragments musically pictures the tragic ending of the story as she ‘let her roses fade away’ The challenge of the arrangement is to keep the choral parts in tune and synchronized in rhythm as they form the bed that dramatically supports the tune. (Note by Diane Loomer)

Composer / Arranger Notes:

My arrangement of “She’s Like The Swallow” was written in the summer of 1992 as part of a trio of a cappella arrangements of Canadian folksongs (the other two being “The Carrion Crow” for male voices and “A la claire fontaine” for mixed voices), and was premiered the following spring by the (now-defunct) Vancouver Chorale, under Jon Washburn. The pieces went on to win honourable mention in the fourth international composition search run by Alice Parker’s “Melodious Accord” organization – a distinction that was particularly gratifying for me, as a former student and great admirer of Alice Parker. Elektra added “She’s Like the Swallow” to their repertoire soon after that, taking it with them on their Australian tour and recording it as well. The arrangement uses open fifths, a dissonant ostinato, and echoed fragments of the tune to create an atmosphere of lamentation for the abandoned lover, and perhaps also to conjure up the windswept and bleak landscape of the tune’s Newfoundland origin


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She’s like the swallow that flies so high,
She’s like the river that never runs dry.
She’s like the sunshine on the lee shore,
She loved her love but she’ll love no more.

‘Twas out in the garden this fair maid bent,
A-picking the primroses as she went.
The more she plucked the more she pulled,
Until she gathered her apron full.

She took her roses and made a bed,
A stony pillow for her head.
She laid her down, no word did say,
But let her roses fade away.