Work: ‘Dawn Mantras’ by Ross Edwards
Performers: Sydney Children’s Choir, Cantillation, Lyn Williams (Conductor)
Album: Eternity: The Timeless Music of Australia’s Composers ABC Classics, 2004)
Excerpt length: 1’46”
Describe the ways in which tone colour is used to achieve expressive outcomes.
Low, resonant, rumbling male voices enter with complementary tone colours to the reverberant, rumbling tone colour of the didgeridoo contributes to a serene character. Bright, metallic ringing chimes at a restrained, soft dynamic contribute to this mood.
Cor anglais – plays with a bright, woody tone colour using legato articulation. While this contrasts greatly with the drone and lower synthesised sounds that have warm, resonant tone colours the softer dynamic enables the mood to remain serene.
Shakuhachi plays with a contrasting tone colour to the cor anglais of breathy, airy quality. This gets brighter and clearer when it plays in a higher register. The mood is still tranqui while these instruments’ melodies interplay as they are matched in dynamic even while their tone colours contrast.
The children’s choir has a unified bright, clear overall tone colour which, due to its fullness of sound, increases the energy to an extent. Tone colour influenced by singing at a comfortable high register, same vocal type (treble unchanged) and unforced technique.
b. Describe how the performers use at least two of the following elements of music to achieve expressive outcomes:
- balance of musical lines
Organic attack due to controlled breath flow on didgeridoo with legato phrasing creates a sense of tranquility. The controlled, organic attack of opening male voice drone complements gentle attack of didgeridoo. Legato, long held notes contributes to tranquility.
While the chimes have sharp, sudden attack, this is achieved at a soft dynamic which, when combined with prolonged, ringing decay and sparse placement of these notes enhances the tranquil expressive outcome.
The approach to articulation is stable and all instruments use consistent approach to articulation with similar gentle attacks and ringing decay.
The shakuhachi has a more gradual attack and decay due to its breathy nature while the cor anglais is a little sharper in terms of attack. This is tempered by an unaccented approach to the starts of phrases and legato overall phrases. This enables the tranquil character to remain.
The shakuhachi plays using gentle glissando between notes to contribute to the tranquility of the work.
The choir sing with unaccented attack and use long legato lines. Consonants are not clearly enunciated and lack hard consonants. Lacks of ‘T’ etc on ends of words enables a tranquil character to remain.
Balance of musical lines
The chimes comes to the foreground of the balance initially, until being replaced by wind instruments, due to high pitch and ringing, metallic tone colour. The character remains tranquil through limited instrumental parts forward in the balance.
The background consists of rumbling, resonant drone of the didgeridoo which is further back in the balance due to low pitch and warm tone colours.
Shakuhachi and cor anglais share the foreground through similar dynamic and a more active melodic line which contrasts with the stagnant background. Clear interweaving melodies creates a sense of tranquility. The stability of this blend – these two instruments firmly in the foreground – equally contributes to tranquility.
The choir singing in harmonised rhythmic unison with bright clear tone colour and much higher pitch than the underlying drone are forward in the balance and replace the wind instruments in the foreground of the balance. Again, a stable approach to balance and clear melodic line enhance the tranquility of the work.
Use of neighbouring and passing notes in the cor anglias and shakuhachi use stepwise motion and a light touch enhancing tranquility. The wind instruments echo each other’s melodic line and use ornamentation of faster runs of notes that are stepwise or pentatonic in intervalic structure. This contributes to the tranquility of the piece.
Use of gently bent ‘blue’ notes as upper neighbour notes with unhurried rhythm creates tranquility.
Use of trills at soft dynamic tend to occur towards the middle of phrases leading towards longer notes. Upper mordents in the shakuhachi are at times answered with opposite lower mordent in the cor anglais. This balance and unforced approach to ornamentation contributes to the tranquil character.
Dynamics are moderately soft at the opening of the excerpt due to sparse instrumentation and low pitch. This creates a tranquil atmosphere.
The shakuhachi and cor anglais have similar dynamics which are louder (mf) than the (p) warm, reverberant low drone of the synthesised sounds and didgeridoo – quieter due to low pitch, constant in dynamic through maintaining the same pitch. The wind instruments are louder due to higher relative pitch and clearer tone colour.
The chimes are quite soft but seem louder than other instruments through high pitch and metallic ringing tone colour. Gentle attack and sparse placement of these notes enables the overall dynamic to stay quite soft and the character to remain tranquil.
The choir has a louder dynamic to the accompanying instruments and this increases as their pitch rises. The expressive outcome is more joyous/exultant as a result though it does not increase in energy as the choir sings long note durations and with a balanced dynamic that matches their pitch – the dynamics increase as their pitch rises and decreases as they fall in pitch and return to the tranquil mood of the work.