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Birds of Fire Publication Details
 

 
  Catalogue Number -
PEL2027 ATB

Voicing/Instrumentation -
AATTBB choir unaccompanied
with percussion, fretless bass, Native American flute and optional keyboard

Level of Difficulty -
Moderate

Uses/Season -
Concert, Festival

 
Duration -
3:30 mins

Pages Music -
17 pages - 24 page booklet
 
Format -
AATTBB unaccompanied choral octavo

Copyright Year - 2001

Perusal Score PDF
AATTBB Choral score

 
 
  Description/Remarks

PEL2027 Birds of Fire is contrived as a round for three equal voices. A Native American-inspired chant using vocables is overlaid with a chorale incorporating text from the Algonquin Indian heritage.  Atmospheric and elegaic, with a flowing, rhythmic quality. A song of the stars, an expression of the night sky, interpreted by the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

__________________________________________________

Commissioned by the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, Barry Oliver, director.


Composer’s notes

'When I was looking for texts for this commission I kept coming back to The Song of the Stars. Living in a remote part of Connecticut we are blessed with remarkably clear night skies and on many evenings I will grab my binoculars and indulge in a little stargazing. There is nothing quite like it for a dose of perspective adjustment! And thinking of perspective, this text reiterates the almost universal theme in Native American cultures of the cyclical nature of life and the cosmos itself.

“Among us are three hunters who chase a bear;
There never was a time when they were not hunting.”

These words called up the idea of a three part, chant-like round, over which I have constructed a “chorale” in which the main body of the text is presented; “We are the stars which sing.” Along with the chant there is a cyclical rhythmic motif provided by the percussion which underscores the revolving, and always returning constellations, and the Native American flute suggests to me the beautiful but lonely emptiness of the night sky. This piece can make no claims to being in any way an “authentic” representation of Native American song. Even the text, which comes to us from the Passamaquoddy Tribe, must have lost a great deal in translation. My hope is that the piece conjures up the sense of mystery, wonder and awe that must have been the response of a people who couldn’t have taken the miracle of the night sky for granted, a people for whom the Milky Way really was a road “for the spirits to pass over.” '   - Paul Halley – June, 2001      

The composer suggests that in performance of this piece the chanters be placed with the percussionists so that they constitute a distinct rhythm section, separate from the choir. 


 

  Sound Clip

Recording
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Native American Flute, Percussion, Fretless Bass, Optional Keyboard
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  Texts

Birds of Fire   
        

Collected and translated by Charles Godfrey Leland
From ‘The Algonquin Legends of New England; or, Myths and Folk Lore of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Tribes’, 1884

The Song of the Stars – (Passamaquoddy)  

We are the stars which sing,
We sing with our light;
We are the birds of fire,
We fly over the sky.
Our light is a voice;
We make a road for spirits,
For the spirits to pass over.
Among us are three hunters
who chase a bear;
There never was a time
When they were not hunting.
We look down on the mountains.
This is the song of the stars.


Chant –
vocables
 

Hey’ ya wa kaino wey-yo watana,
Pey-yo wa chana wey-yo wey. 

 

Vocable: a word composed of various sounds or letters without regard to its meaning. Non-lexical vocables, which may be mixed with meaningful text, are used in a wide variety of music. A common English example would be "la la la". In vocal jazz, scat singing is vocal improvisation with random vocables and syllables or without words at all.

Many Native American songs employ vocables, syllables that do not have referential meaning. These may be used to frame words or may be inserted among them; in some cases, they constitute the entire song text.