SPIRITUAL - A Cantata (Duration 26 minutes)

This 7 movement cantata invokes the sound world of early gospel music and African singing. Some of the techniques used such as sliding from one note to another, singing pitches which fall between semi-tones, imitating the sound of the harmonium, and placing melody in the middle of the choir rather than on the top, are taken directly from these styles.

However, “Spiritual” is intended for use by choirs from the Western classical tradition and many techniques in the piece also relate to this tradition, especially early English church music. In particular, whole pieces of Western religious music often use just one or two words for their text: “Hosanna”, “Agnus Dei”, “Lux aeterna”, “Jubilate”, etc., so each movement in “Spiritual” makes use of individual words chosen as much for their sound as for their meaning and the human voice becomes an instrument; repeating and varying the syllables in the same way that an instrumentalist uses articulation and tonal variety to bring expression to music.

Many of the words used in the piece (“river”, “loving”, “pain”, “jubilation”, etc.) are familiar from gospel songs, but “hovercraft” may be something of a surprise. The idea comes from a wonderful archive recording of a song entitled “Jesus is my aeroplane”, which I changed to “hovercraft” in keeping with the watery nature of some of the other movements.

The piece uses various percussive sounds in addition to the voice, particularly clapping in the final movement. As the charismatic singer Jessie Dixon said, “If you don't come away from a gospel concert with sore hands, no one will believe you've been there”.


A capella choir (SATB)

The piece also exists in a version for saxophone quartet (SATB)

Grading:      A

Grading notes

E - Easy: Can be sung by almost anyone and learnt aurally.

I - Intermediate: Still easy, but with a few tricky bits. Some score reading ability would help.

A - Advanced: Challenging. Reading skills required.

36 pages.

PRICE:  £5.00 (hard copy only) + postage