Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Personent Hodie - TTB

Earlene discusses Personent Hodie

I loved working on the 14th Century Carol, Personent Hodie, for TTB Voices. When an arranger writes for TTB voices, we are generally thinking "Middle School," though many adult choirs could sing this piece effectively as well. Why? Accessibility...and because the primary concern of most middle school choral directors is holiday music for TTB. 

There was an initial problem with accessibility in creating the piece for TTB. The range of the entire melody was not accessible to all TTB middle school voices, so I passed it around to different sections, according to accessibility. In the "refrain," all of the voices come together, using lots of unisons and duets. In other words, the arrangement is indeed accessible to middle school.

As you know, Personent Hodie is a carol from the medieval period, which generally means that accompanying instruments like hand drum, recorder, and finger cymbals also come along with it. Every arrangement I heard used these instruments, it seemed. I could have written out a part or ostinato for these instruments as well, but I wanted my arrangement to be different. For once, I wanted you and your students to choose improvisation! I did not give my students opportunities to improvise as I taught middle school and high school. I regret that fact. Actually, I was better at providing improvisational opportunities when I taught in elementary school! I was an Orff instructor, and many of the performance possibilities with Orff involved improvisation. When I "moved up" (I LOVED elementary school...I didn't want to move), I found myself more rigid and less likely to let students sing anything in choral music that was not on the page. So....now is your chance to allow students to improvise a bit, using the medieval instrument effects provided by a recorder, hand drum, and finger cymbals.

At first glance, Personent Hodie appears to be in the key of e-minor, but wait...there is a constant C#. The key is actually in Dorian Mode, and more specifically, this piece is in E-Dorian (E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D, E). Have students sing through this mode a few times to get the sound of Dorian "in the ear."

Now the recorder: I have written this arrangement with open block chords at the beginning. I think it would be great to allow a recorder player to improvise in E-Dorian with all sorts of fun scalar patterns for Verse 1. Because the piano becomes more active in the subsequent verses, the recorder might play some imitative five note patterns in Dorian Mode. Another option: The more active the piano gets, the recorder might want to play longer notes....whole and half notes, etc. Your choice. I just want students to have fun performing this piece with their own improvisation. You are actually creating your own performance. 

Have fun with this arrangement! Is it right? Yes, it's right! It's your performance product, and during these days of the "unconventional," you can create your own "norm." Enjoy!!!