Ding, Dong, Bell
Ding, Dong, Bell
CCM Chamber Choir; Earl Rivers, conductor
Christopher Albanese, tenor; Manami White, violin
Gavin Arnold, bass clarinet; Zachary Webb, vibraphone
Commissioned by and dedicated to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Chamber Choir, Earl Rivers, conductor, on the occasion of the Shakespeare Quadricentennial Celebration.
I first had the pleasure of hearing the CCM Chamber Choir and Earl Rivers perform a striking and evocative rendition of John Adams’ El Niño a few years ago. No easy task, I was immediately impressed by their assuredness of presence and authority on this difficult and treacherous score. They navigated its demands with grace, elegance, and refinement.
So it came to be a particular delight for me when Earl approached me about crafting a new work for this able group of singers. The request was for a new work on a text of Shakespeare, to honor the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. I was given freedom to choose any text from his works, and to set it with an instrument or two (or three, as it turns out!) of my own devising.
Thus, I happened upon this little gem of a song from “The Merchant of Venice,” which comments upon the nature of attraction, with responsorial effect:
Tell me ,where is Fancy bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
It is engendered in the eyes,
With gazing fed, and Fancy dies
In the cradle where it lies.
Let us all ring Fancy’s knell.
I’ll begin it.—Ding, dong, bell.
Ding, dong, bell.
I loved the attention paid to rhyme, the jocularity of rhythm, and the onomatopoetic nature of the language. Here was Sir William at his wittiest, most vibrant, and most colorful. And so, I wanted an instrumental and choral texture of equal sparkle and luminosity, and I chose to utilize the warmth and lyricism of the violin, the cool, wooden tones of the bass clarinet, and the metallic mingling of the vibraphone. I also wanted to make happen the alternatim nature of the solo and chorus implied in the text, without being as literal as the script decrees. The addition of a tenor soloist seemed pertinent, a soloist who both announces the initial question with filigreed turns and ornamental inflections and also caps off the final statement with a floated and free lyrical flourish. In between, the chorus takes on many emotional frames, depicting the colors and shapes inherent in each line of the poetry. Always high but never serious, just like Shakespeare himself.
This work is lovingly dedicated with gratitude to Earl Rivers and the CCM Chamber Choir.