ACEBOOK IS MOSTLY A WASTE OF TIME. But if you use it judiciously—seeking to make meaningful connections rather than win superficial affirmations or avoid your real work—it can be a helpful tool. Many church musicians have leaned on Facebook as a way to stay in touch, swap ideas and resources, and lift each other’s spirits during the COVID church lockdowns.
I don’t participate much in the various musician groups on Facebook, but I’ll occasionally see something interesting. Sometimes it’s a good motet by a composer whose work I haven’t previously encountered.
One such motet is the Salve Regina by one Alvez Barkoskie IV. I found it in late July and liked it immediately. My choir learned it for the Feast of the Assumption, which fell on a Sunday this year. Mr. Barkoskie’s composition alternates bars of the simple-tone Salve Regina chant with bars of original polyphony:
What to Look and Listen for
What I love about this piece:
The chant melody is already familiar. This gives the choir confidence right out of the gate.
The polyphony sounds a bit like an alma mater. I haven’t heard that many college alma maters, but they always strike me as buoyant and hopeful with excellent voice leading. This motet strikes me the same way—and who couldn’t use some optimism these days?
Something weird happens. The bar at “Et Jesum” will catch singers and congregation by surprise. It was a brilliant stroke by Mr. Barkoskie to add a bit of tartness amidst the sweetness.
The composer has a great name. All things being equal, it’s a little more fun than if we were singing a composition by some guy named Smith. Doesn’t “Alvez Barkoskie” sound like he should be lining up in the slot for an SEC school in the Orange Bowl?
A few tips:
Be prepared for congregation members to join in. Many longtime attendees of the traditional Latin Mass can sing the simple-tone Salve Regina by heart. When they hear your choir start singing it, they may instinctively try to sing along, though they’ll probably stop as soon as they hear the first polyphonic section. Consider warning your choir about this so that they won’t be distracted if it does happen.
Don’t let the chant bars drag. My choir knows that I don’t like draggy chant in any context. “It shouldn’t sound rushed, but there should be direction in every phrase,” I often remind them. I think it’s even more important in a piece like this to keep the chant moving. If it drags, you’ll be forced to take the polyphonic sections extremely slowly, too. I think it’s much more effective to let the chant glide along and then take a bit more time with the polyphony, letting these satisfying chords wash over singers and congregation alike.
Don’t be put off by all those flats. The piece is in D-flat major. So what? If you use solfege, your singers will be able to navigate this (or any) key just fine. I like to mark initials for the solfege syllables of every note in any motet I hand out (you’ve no doubt seen this approach in the many free scores available here at Corpus Christi Watershed). That way, singers won’t be tripping over syllables and can focus on the real purpose of solfege: ear training.
Spend most of your rehearsal time on “Et Jesum…” You can tell from the recording that the “Et Jesum” bar is the one harmonic outlier. But if you’re using solfege, you can remind everyone that the preceding chant bar ends on DO and then challenge them to find their notes from there. Alto and bass go one step down, and soprano goes one step up. Tenor leaps by a fourth, but in the typical church choir, that’s only about two guys anyway! Once everyone is comfortable finding their first notes at “Et Jesum,” it will be constructive to walk through parts on solfege syllables. My choir learned this bar surprisingly quickly.
- Consider having alternating groups sing the chant bars. If you have a large choir like mine, you may want to have low voices sing some of the chant bars and high voices sing the others. But it can certainly sound lovely with everyone singing everything.
Salve Regina season lasts until Advent. You still have plenty of time to learn this simple, tasty piece. To contact the composer and learn more about his scores, visit his Facebook page.
See? Facebook isn’t totally useless.