Blonde in a Black Skirt

Arranged by Stephen Hatfield
Series Editor: Elaine Quilichini
Voicing: Unison
Instrumentation: keyboard
Catalog number: AMP 0325
Price: $1.70

Blonde In A Black Skirt -Performance Notes

Blonde In A Black Skirt pays tribute to the Irish jig, and quotes such traditional dance tunes as Cape Breton and McGurk's. I have been directly inspired by the stylings of Irish pub musicians, although I have not tried to imitate the deft, baroque ornamentation with which Irish musicians embellish even their most prestissimo performance. The blonde in the black skirt is not only a reference to an Irish step dancer, but also the term sometimes used to describe a well-pulled pint of Guinness, which should have a tall and creamy head "standing proud" on top of the dark drink.

the music: It looks like there's a million notes to learn, but actually the jig breaks down to six melodies of eight measures each -which is often merely four measures repeated with a slight variation. So there is not as much to learn as there first appears. I have given no dynamic contrasts: let the choir begin with a beefy mezzo forte and changes in vocal range and piano texture will create variety .

I wanted to use a bright-sounding key to suggest the brightness of the Irish whistles. However, since there are nearly no accidentals, it would be easy for the pianist to playa semitone down, from B to Bflat, if that gives the choir a more comfortable tessitura. Other instruments such as fiddles or flutes can be added, doubling the right hand piano part. Where the piano moves to a more chordal accompaniment, such as measures 67-68, the vocal line can be doubled instead.

the text: The text is modeled on the crazy quilt of village gossip, work songs, and nonsense refrains used in so many folk tunes. Given a text like this, a choir would normally put the words across through lots of word painting and robust comic exaggeration, but in this case that is not the desired effect. The text may be lighthearted in tone, but it should not be played for laughs; in fact, if you can play it for laughs you're singing it too slowly. Diction must be crisp to help fire volley after volley of notes into the audience, but do not worry if the audience can barely keep track with the whirlwind of words. That whirlwind is part of the non-stop energy we hope to create, and it's also part of the humor. Not that the words should be sung as if they were meaningless, but I want the brisk tempo to accelerate the words until they skate the line between sense and nonsense. For me, that is when the text becomes funny.

the tempo: Briskness of tempo is crucial, for first and foremost we are after rhythmic energy. The singers will be aided by the piano part, which follows them note for note for most of the piece (and can do so for the entire thing if necessary). The opening accelerando is not only idiomatic to the jig, but will help set up any dancer(s) you may wish to use. Any dancer who knows the Irish jig will be able to use those step patterns while the choir sings. I suggest the dancers take their places during the accelerando, and actually begin to dance at measure 17. Adding a drummer will help keep the tempo stoked: the basic rhythm is:

accemted quarter-note, eighth-note and three eight-notes (6/8)

A few words and phrases may need some explanation. A 'Proddy" is a Protestant, I"tay" is tea, and "a drop o' the crayture" (as in "creature") is a small drink. A "dark Rosaleen" is an Irish beauty with black hair and a rosy complexion. Many Gaelic songs have been composed in tribute.

Stephen Hatfield

recorded excerpt performed by Shallaway,
(formerly the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir)
Susan Knight, founder and Artistic Director
The full recording can be found on their CD Full Circle.

Click here to see a sample.

Click here to listen to a recording (MP3).



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