Piece of the week 36: ‘Autumn’ for upper-voice choir

Sing for Pleasure – the national charity which aims to encourage people of all ages to enjoy choral singing – is planning to celebrate its 60th anniversary next year with an excitingly wide range of singing and training events.
I got to know about Sing for Pleasure in the 1970s when my head of department was a musician called Donald Hughes.  He was a keen encourager of amateur music-making and was a founding figure in the Sing for Pleasure movement – and it was largely through him that I was asked to write a piece to celebrate their 25th anniversary, in 1989.

The piece was to contain movements for the different types of choirs that were taking part, mixed choirs (SATB), and upper voice choirs, both adults and children – and to emphasise the all-year-round activity of singing, the words were chosen to reflect the different seasons of the year. ‘Seasons’ as the piece came to be known (without a ‘The’!) contained eight movements, and approximately thirty choirs took part in a celebratory event in Huddersfield Town Hall.

Inevitably, with a piece of this size and scoring, a complete second performance was unlikely, but it was very nice that some of the separate pieces took on a life of their own, and Autumn for upper-voice youth choir was one of these, and it’s now been sung by a number of choirs. The words, taken from a collection of poems for and by young people, are by F. Politzer and paint a magical picture of autumn:

Whirling leaves, golden and brown,
Twisting and turning, hurrying down.
Driving wind, gusty and strong,
Whistling and sighing, rushing along.

So, the germ of the piece is a ‘twisting and turning’ melody line, sung at first by all voices together. Then, as the music develops, this line returns as a kind of chorus, first in a two-part canon, then in a three-part one, as the ‘whirling leaves’ are whipped up by the wind and scattered around. Between these sections there is more word-painting (laughing…galloping…chirping…) and finally a more relaxed moment as the dying embers of autumn await new birth in the spring.

Here’s a link to a recording by the Taplow Girls’ Choir, conductor Gillian Dibden, and here’s a link to the Autumn website page.

I’m ever-thankful to the late Donald Hughes and his Sing for Pleasure colleagues for asking me to write these songs so many years ago. I’ll introduce you to a ‘winter’ one when the time comes!