Gwyneth Walker

Review of "Bones, Be Good!" from "Dreams and Dances" (1992) for SATB Chorus and Piano (or Strings)

by Paul Laprade, The Choral Journal

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Read notes for Dreams and Dances (1992) for SATB chorus and piano (or strings)

Bones, Be Good! is a lively and clever swing-era-style composition. The text, by poet Lucille Clifton, laments the singers' inability to keep their bodies from "movin'," "spinnin'," "dancin'," and "tappin'." Each of these images is set to jazzy melodic phrases. Although not originally written for a show choir, the highly suggestive text and lively rhythms would make the adaptation easy.

Contrasting melodies are combined contrapuntally to thicken the texture, drama, and rhythmic complexity. The melodies are collected and paired until the pairs themselves are placed into larger groupings, which culminate in a climactic arrangement of seven countermelodies sounding simultaneously (in an extended choral divisi). The effect is stunning, particularly as this amalgamation of riffs is abruptly followed by a closing unison/octave scat section.

Bones, Be Good! easily lends itself to use as an introduction to swing vocal style with extreme constrasts in dynamics, several types of accented articulation, vocal slides and glides, and even nonpitch elements. The piano accompaniment is moderate to easy in its demands, and the vocal writing is, for the most part, comfortable. However, the recurring D in the bass ostinato may be particularly weak in the larger contrapuntal sections unless one is blessed with a number of strong basses. The composer's ossia A at these points might be replaced by the more satisfying d. It is rare to find a fun, well-written selection that offers an introduction to swing style and many opportunities to discuss different styles of jazz counterpoint. This work is highly recommended for high school chorus, jazz choir, or show choir but also could be quite successful if performred by a talented and experienced septet.

From The Choral Journal