Schafer has created a “landscape” of sounds describing various images of snow. The text is in the Inuktitut language, ranging from “newly drifted snow” to “snow like salt”.
This 20th century monument of treble choral literature was written in 1982 by the imaginative, highly respected, internationally praised composer, R. Murray Schafer. Watching from his farmhouse window in Ontario, Schafer was intrigued by the various shapes, forms, and ever-changing, soft foldings of snow. From these observations came the inspiration to write Snowforms. Using graphic notation, he asks singers to sing “shapes” or “drawings” which are representations of snow forms on the distant horizon. Schafer’s graphic notation is augmented by suggested pitches and the voices are asked to “glide” from one pitch to another in a continuous portamento. A time log is written in the score to suggest durations but Schafer is quite specific that conductors should not feel “enslaved” by the timed suggestions. Although it was written for two part treble chorus, there are a few times within the score when each of the two parts split into four independent lines. Except for the occasional interjection of words which mean various types of “snow” in the Inuit language the entire piece is hummed thereby giving a sense of smoothness and peaceful quietness or hush. Challenges for the conductor are to find gestures that suggest and mirror the contours that are found within the score. Challenges for the singers are to believe the piece will “work” and to trust the instincts and imagination of not only the composer and conductor but also of themselves. Snowforms is a remarkable work that fascinates listeners but more importantly encourages collaboration and exchange of ideas between conductors and singers. It encourages performers to create music beyond the bounds of a traditional score with very satisfying results. (Note by Diane Loomer)
Composer / Arranger Notes:
In 1971 I flew the polar route from Europe to Vancouver over Greenland. Clear weather provided an excellent opportunity to study the forms of that spectacular and terrifying geography. Immediately, I had an idea for a symphonic work in which sustained bulks of sound would be fractured by occasional splinters of colour. That experience remains clear in memory. It suggested the orchestral textures of “North/White” and it returns now to shape “Snowforms”, yet very differently, for my memory of the vast foldings of Arctic snow has been modified by the experience of passing winters in Ontario. Often on a winter day I have broken off from other work to study the snow from my farmhouse window, and it is the memory of these forms which has suggested most of the continuous horizon of “Snowforms “.
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